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Thunder Dame

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Under 30-foot-high scarlet red letters that spelled her name, Tina Turner came galloping across the stage, white-hot, humming with energy, those incredible legs pumping, pumping, pumping. From that first moment they belonged to her, 12,000 West Germans screaming with pure and mindless joy. When she closed the sizzling 85-minute show with a frenzied rendition of her hit single “What’s Love Got To Do With It”, they turned Munich’s Olympiahalle into a huge fireworks display, saluting her with thousands of sparklers. The conventional wisdom is that, like most elemental forces, Tina Turner in full flight does not think; she just is. A nice theory—but wrong.

“Playing Munich for that crowd had a special meaning for me,” said Tina after the show last May. “I still have vivid memories of the last time I played Munich with the Ike and Tina Revue. Ike kept refusing to go out because there were so few people who showed up. When we finally went on, about an hour later, there were only about 100 people in the audience. It was awful. To have thousands turn out for me this time…well, nobody can know how much that meant to me.”

Tina Turner getting sentimental on us? Things have changed for this born-again Rock Goddess and imminent movie phenomenon with the release this week of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which Tina just about steals from its nominal star and hunk, Mel Gibson. Tina, who plays archvillain Aunty Entity in the third Mad Max epic, loved her first full-length movie role. Still she maintained her cool. “I won’t say that when I finally got to Australia it was the easiest thing I ever did, because a lot of times there were sandstorms and it was hot and those were long days,” she says. “But I learned a lot, and I loved working with Melvin. He hates that name, but that’s what I call him, because he reminds me so much of one of my sons. He also reminds me of my Ikettes.”

It seems like only yesterday that she was crisscrossing America with those very same Ikettes, working up to three shows a night, year in, year out, as front woman for the revue. In those days she used to introduce their biggest hit, Proud Mary, like this: “Y’ know, every now and then I think you might like to hear somethin’ from us nice…and easy. But there’s just one thing. Y’ see, we nevah, evah do nothin’ nice…and easy. We do everything nice…and rough.”

How true. As it turned out, Ike (recently busted in L.A. for conspiracy to sell cocaine) was a serious drug user and wife abuser. In 1976, soon after a concert in Dallas, Tina fled Ike with little more than the clothes on her back—36 cents and a Mobil credit card, to be exact—gave up everything in the divorce settlement just to get him out of her life, then spent eight Dantesque years on the slag heaps of showbiz (playing hotel lounges for the polyester set and appearing on Hollywood Squares) to pay off back taxes and lawsuits from canceled dates. That kind of thing can hurt a gal’s rep. Three years ago the most robust performer in rock history couldn’t get a phone call returned, let alone a record contract.

Then along came Roger Davies, her gregarious Australian manager. A persuasive man, Davies talked Capitol Records into signing her, banished her trademark Ikette dancers and leaned on some talented friends to write and produce songs for her comeback album. Private Dancer, recorded in two weeks, sold more than eight million copies and this year Tina copped three Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year for “What’s Love Got To Do With It”.

The mighty sat up and took notice. At the Grammy ceremonies, no less an artist than Leonard Bernstein waxed gaga over her talents. William Morrow anted up a reported $460,000 for her juicy life story, due next year. And Steven Spielberg three times offered her the lead role in the movie adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer prizewinning novel, The Color Purple, the story of an abused woman growing up in a dirt-poor Georgia farm town. Thrice Tina, who was born and raised in Nutbush, Tenn., turned him down. Not that she wouldn’t like the Oscar many believe will come with the part, but “I lived that story,” Tina explained to Spielberg, “I don’t need to act it.”

If she stopped to wonder why it took the world so long to catch on, who could blame her? But at an age (45) when many rock legends have been dead for years, Tina Turner—practicing Buddhist, thriving entertainment conglomerate, child-woman, responsible mother of four, resolute believer in reincarnation and world-class shopping—is still a firm follower of that ever-popular law of physics: A body in motion tends to stay in motion.

Tina Turner, perched atop the Empire State Building of Jetstream heels, has been posing patiently for hours in a hot and fetid photo studio in London. Her migraine and remnants of the flu aren’t making it any easier. Then someone pushes a boom-box button and Bruce Springsteen begins singing “Dancing in the Dark”. Suddenly every ounce of bone, tissue and sinew—not to mention her scarlet microskirt and black fishnet stockings—start writhing. Tina can’t help herself. Closing her eyes, she mimes the lyrics through maraschino lips. With only four witnesses, this is almost a private dance.

Say “cheeseburger.”

That’s Tina’s first request when the photo session finally ends around midnight. A Mercedes limo takes her entourage to the nearest junk food joint where Tina gets her burger, greasy fries and a large cola. As she wolfs down the last few bites, the car halts in a deserted residential neighborhood. Tina says good night and disappears into the offices of Dr. Chandra Sharma. There an attending nurse inserts into her arm an IV needle attached to a plastic bag filled with a homeopathic mixture of unspecified vitamins and minerals designed to “cleanse the body of impurities.” Tina takes her “drip” for about four hours and then hops a car back to her elegant suite.

Clearly the sexy lady is a lot more complicated—and spiritual—than she seems. She chants, gets acupunctured regularly, has her aura healed with crystals and believes she once lived in Egypt many lives ago. Though she trusts her health to Dr. Sharma, an Indian practitioner who cured her of tuberculosis years ago and continues to “balance” her body, Tina’s No. 1 spiritual adviser and most trusted confidante is noted psychic Carol Dryer. Almost a decade ago Dryer told Tina, “You will be among the biggest of stars. A partner of yours [Ike] will fall like a leaf from a tree in autumn.” Tina believed. “Psychics are my drug,” she says. “It is like looking into the past and seeing a wonderful movie of your life that can guide you. My real ultimate goal in life is to open that third eye.”

Thanks in large part to her healthy living habits, Tina does not look or act her age. Yet she clearly knows the difference between the ageless undulating temptress onstage and herself. No longer the naive country girl, she will not tolerate bad manners and has heard and can spot “every scam, lie, come-on and excuse ever invented.” A strict mother, she would not let her sons speak “slangs” around her. (Two were Ike’s—Ike Jr., 26, and Michael, 24; one was hers—Craig, 26; one they had together—Ronnie, 23.) She enunciates so properly that she almost sounds British. Though genial at social functions, she is not a “party-er” and clearly disapproves of any form of disorderly behavior or drug use.

Not that she’s a prude. That raw sexuality isn’t only for her fans. But even here Tina has pretty old-fashioned values. For example, she considers “quickies” bad form. “I like to be romanced by a man,” she says. She’s been divorced since 1978 and at times has gone up to a year without sex. “I’m not one of those women who has to have it no matter what,” she says. “When you see me on a man’s arm, it means something. I am not touched easily. I don’t go out with men just to have companionship.”

Tina has a rather unexpected notion of the ideal woman. “Above all other women, I have a queen,” she says reverentially, “and that is Jackie Kennedy Onassis. I love her and I always will. I love her for her life, her strength, her education and for herself.” Her perfect mate, whom she feels destined to meet, would resemble JFK. “That’s the man I want,” she says. “A perfect mixture of naughty and powerful.”

Beyond that? “First of all, there’s something about a man’s hands I like. And feet. If he’s got horrible feet and shoes, forget it. And I like a wide bottom. In the relationship he has to have the control—and I will give that to him—but that’s only because he really has it anyway. Now that’s magic. Money adds a lot, but he doesn’t have to have it. I am not lonely but I do miss giving my love. I am very affectionate. Even so, I am very good alone.”

Her stunning looks are the envy of sirens half her age and no cosmetic surgeon can take credit. “People tell me I look great and I say, ‘You’re damn right! I take care of myself.’ ” Working up a sweat for more than an hour a night onstage most of her adult life is her only exercise.

Unlike the rest of the civilized world, she’s never thought much of her heart-stopping gams. “You ever see ponies’ legs when they’re just born?” she asks. “That’s what my legs always looked like to me. This short torso is hooked onto these two little dangling legs, but I’ve learned how to wear clothes to flatter them.”

Then there’s that hair, a wild eruption of caramel. “I prepare it like a three-course meal,” she says, explaining how she fixes the wig with a deadly looking pronged instrument. “I wash it, let it dry, then fork it up. Then I yuk it up with this gooey stuff, let it dry and then fork it up again.”

Spare time and energy is spent buying clothes. For Tina, shopping is an art form. Success has merely given her the resources to pursue it the way Picasso painted: passionately, inventively and prolifically. “My taste is very European,” she says, which helps explain why she dropped $15,000 in three hours in London one afternoon. “I don’t have a man to lavish me right now, so I lavish myself.”

Tina is no impulse buyer either. She pores over stacks of continental fashion mags, clipping anything that catches her eye and usually beheading the models, “especially if they have an expression I don’t like.” She carts along her wardrobe-wish portfolio containing thousands of items and keeps a meticulously organized leather business-card holder of her favorite shops around the world. When clerks see Tina walk into their department, they head for the flashy, erotic stuff. Wrong. “They think sexy legs and chest out, but normally I am very conservative,” she says. “I get enough attention onstage so I can dress pretty low key on the street. I buy for quality, not flash.”

When it comes to jewelry, Tina’s not a diamond person, unless of course “it is a really big one. I hate those little cluster things.” Precious metals appeal, and she has purchased a number of the expensive interlocking Russian wedding bands from Cartier.

Tina claims she has always had expensive tastes, but her current possession obsession seems to be a catch-up reaction to her days with Ike when she had no control of her own money. She’s magnanimous, too. Ike’s been peddling their old tapes to capitalize on his ex’s golden skirttails. “I don’t begrudge Ike nothing,” says Tina. “He is a talented musician. I wish he could get something together.”

It took her years to do the same. Now settling the last of her liabilities, she is truly financially independent. “My dream is to get the American Express Gold Card,” she says. “Now I borrow other people’s—the chauffeur, my manager, anyone. Don’t worry. I always pay them back.”

When she can’t shop, a favorite pastime is watching horror films. After a long day of interviews and glad-handing last month in London, she relaxed with friends by screening The Entity, a B-grade drama where actress Barbara Hershey is sexually assaulted by an invisible demon. Her advice was flawless, since she had seen the movie three times that week. “You better get out of there!” she shouted as the invisible creature was about to strike. If only Barbara Hershey had listened.

“What I like,” she explained, “is like the dead that’s really alive. People coming from outer space and how they look. I also love the Dracula movies. It excites me, the fear.” Her two all-time favorite films: The Exorcist and The Ten Commandments. Chew on that awhile, Sigmund.

Tina believes her future lies more onscreen than onstage. Always did. Back in Nutbush, when she was just little Anna Mae Bullock, a cotton sharecropper’s daughter, she liked to drag a bedspread out into the dusty backyard of her family’s tiny home. She’d lie on it, smiling and pretending to be a Hollywood star. “I don’t want to just be prancing around in some frilly dress singing a song, you know?” she said in London, leaping up on the couch and crouching like Charlton Heston in Ben Hur. “I want to drive one of those damn chariots. Yeow! That’s excitement! That’s the stuff I love.” Anna Mae lives.