How Tina Turner Overcame Years of Abuse and Emerged as a Beacon of Hope

Turner, who died Wednesday at age 83, left ex-husband Ike Turner in 1976 after years of what she called "living a life of death."

David Redfern/Redferns

After enduring years of abuse at the hands of her business partner and husband, Ike Turner, Tina Turner was able to build resilience. Through her courageous journey, the legendary singer became an inspiration and a staple of hope for fans worldwide.

The "Queen of Rock 'n' Roll," who died Wednesday at age 83, began her professional musical career in the late 1950s after meeting ex-husband Ike Turner while performing with his band, Kings of Rhythm, in a St. Louis club.

"That's when I learned that I was truly talented," the Grammy Award winner told Oprah Winfrey in a 2005 interview. "His music charged me. I was never attracted to him, but I wanted to sing with his band."

Tina TURNER and Ike TURNER in the 60s
(GAB Archive/Redferns)

When the duo started spending more time together outside of work, Tina often saw "the other side" of him that wasn't "so nice."

"He was always fighting people," she told Winfrey. "I just thought that was because they'd wronged him. That had nothing to do with me. ... In those days, everybody did what Ike said. He had the power. He had never been mean to me, so I felt loyal to him. But I didn't want a relationship with him."

Ike often had control over Tina's professional and personal life — at times, allegedly beating her before her performances and before they had sex. (In his 1999 autobiography Takin' Back My Name, Ike said he "never beat her," but admitted to slapping Tina.)

"He wanted his abuse to be seen," Tina told Winfrey. "That was the shameful part."

Despite her reservations, the pair married in 1962 in Mexico, and the abuse continued.

In the 2021 HBO Max documentary Tina, the legendary singer opened up about her suicide attempt in 1968 and recalled the terrifying moment she decided to leave Ike for good in 1976.

Portrait of American R&B, Rock, and Pop singer Tina Turner during an interview on MTV at Teletronic Studios, New York, New York, August 22, 1984.
(Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)

"I was living a life of death," Tina said in the film.

Following a violent altercation en route to their hotel in Dallas, Texas, Tina escaped with only 36 cents in her pocket; shortly thereafter, she filed for divorce.

"Something just motivates you to keep moving," she told Winfrey. "When I left, I simply said to that white manager at a hotel in Texas, 'Can you give me a room?' I was shaken, nervous, scared. But I knew I wasn't going back." 

Their divorce was finalized in 1978.

"For a long time I felt like I was stuck, with no way out of the unhealthy situation I was in," she told Harvard Business Review in 2021. "But then I had a series of encounters with different people who encouraged me. … And once I could see myself clearly, I began to change, opening the way to confidence and courage. It took a few years, but finally I was able to stand up for my life and start anew."

The "Proud Mary" singer staged what has been referred to as one of the greatest comebacks in pop music history after her hit song "What's Love Got to Do with It" hit No. 1 on the music charts in America in 1984. 

Tina Turner performs at Shoreline Amphitheatre on May 23, 1997 in Mountain View California.
(Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

Tina later married Erwin Bach, a former record executive, in 2013.

"I really needed love," she said in the HBO documentary. "I just needed to love a person."

As for Ike, who died in 2007, Tina admitted she forgave him a long time ago.

"Forgiving means not to hold on," she said in the film. "You let it go."

If you or someone you know needs help, visit or call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of domestic violence, help is available 24 hours a day through the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

Start your day with the biggest stories and exclusive reporting from The Messenger Morning, our weekday newsletter.
By signing up, you agree to our privacy policy and terms of use.
Sign Up.