Tina Turner, the ultimate trailblazer for women in rock ’n’ roll, has died

tina turner performs live
Remembering Tina TurnerDave Hogan - Getty Images

Tina Turner, one of music’s most recognisable voices and a formative force in rock ’n’ roll, has died at 83. The singer, known for hits such as “Proud Mary” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” passed after a long illness at her home near Zurich, Switzerland, according to Deadline.

“With her, the world loses a music legend and a role model,” the star’s publicist, Bernard Doherty, said in a statement.

Turner’s estate confirmed the news on her official Instagram, writing alongside a black-and-white photo of the late superstar, “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Tina Turner. With her music and her boundless passion for life, she enchanted millions of fans around the world and inspired the stars of tomorrow. Today we say goodbye to a dear friend who leaves us all her greatest work: her music. All our heartfelt compassion goes out to her family. Tina, we will miss you dearly.”

Turner is one of the defining voices of the 20th century, and has one of the most famously heartbreaking personal stories of the era as well. Before she became the “Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll” and one of the bestselling female artists in music history, she was Anna Mae Bullock, born in 1939 in Brownsville, Tennessee, the youngest daughter of Floyd Richard Bullock and his wife, Zelma Priscilla. Like many eventual superstars, she discovered her musical gift while participating in the church choir and leaned on her faith as she escaped a tumultuous upbringing.

tina turner concert
Tina Turner performing in 1975Michael Putland - Getty Images

To support herself as a young woman, she began performing in small clubs in and around St. Louis, where she eventually met musician Ike Turner—a moment that altered the course of her career, and that the singer would ultimately consider both blessing and a curse. Their union has become music-industry folklore: Tina persuaded Ike to let her sing in his band, where she quickly became a star thanks to her powerhouse voice. But over the course of their working relationship and eventual marriage, Ike was extremely abusive. Tina explained in the 2021 HBO documentary Tina that when the pair finally divorced in 1978, the only thing she thought worth fighting for was ownership of her name—it was all she had, if she wanted to maintain any sort of musical career for herself. She won that battle, and from there, Tina Turner as a solo entity and musical force was born.

tina turner at the poplar creek music theater
Paul Natkin - Getty Images

While Turner’s hits alongside Ike during the 1950s and ’60s included “Proud Mary” and “Baby, Get It On,” her ultimate heyday has always been considered the 1980s. Her album Private Dancer, released in 1984, featured the hit that ultimately changed her life—“What’s Love Got to Do With It”— alongside other tracks, such as “Let’s Stay Together” and “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” “What’s Love” became the song that defined not only the era, but her whole career, transforming her into a rock ’n’ roll icon. It was also notoriously the song she never wanted to record.

“It was terrible. It was awful,” Turner said in the documentary. “I was rock and roll. ... This was a pop song. They weren’t used to [a] strong voice standing on top of music. But I converted it and made it my own.”

The star’s onstage style was almost as unforgettable as her voice: tinsel-fringed minidresses, chainmail halter tops, sky-high heels, and a spiky ’80s blowout. In her photo book That’s My Life, she wrote about how embracing edgier fashion onstage helped her become “stronger, more confident, happier, [and] loved.”

Turner’s recent documentary was widely considered a farewell of sorts to fans, released years after she had already announced her official retirement.

“How do you bow out slowly, just go away?” she asked, fighting tears, at the end of the film. The project featured appearances from her husband, Erwin Bach, whom she remained married to until the time of her passing. She also had four children: Craig, whom she welcomed with former partner Raymond Hill; Ike Jr. and Michael, adopted from Ike Sr.’s former marriage; and Ronnie, whom she welcomed with Ike. Craig died in 2018 at 59 years old, and the singer dedicated the documentary to his memory.

One of her final public appearances was in November 2019, at the opening of the Broadway show Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, based on the story of her life. “She said, ‘I’m going to America and say goodbye to my American fans, and I’ll wrap it up,’” Bach said in the documentary. “And I think this documentary and the play, this is it. It’s a closure.”

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