Tina Turner‘s remarkable story has been the subject of a feature film and a London stage musical, but with her new memoir My Love Story, the R&B goddess tells her story in her very own words. The book explores not only the heights of her stardom, but also the depths of her despair as Tina faced physical and mental abuse at the hands of her husband and musical partner, Ike. For the first time, she admits that she considered taking her own life as the only way to end her torment.
The pair were unlikely lovers. They met in the late ’50s on the St. Louis club circuit, where Ike was performing with his band, Kings of Rhythm. He was 25 years old, and Tina (then known by her birth name, Anna Mae Bullock) was just 17.
“Ike wasn’t conventionally handsome,” she writes. “Actually, he wasn’t handsome at all — and he certainly wasn’t my type. I was used to high school boys who were clean-cut, athletic, and dressed in denim, so Ike’s processed hair, diamond ring, and skinny body looked old to me, even though he was only 25. I couldn’t help thinking, ‘God, he’s ugly.'”
Tina became a member of the band, and after a relationship with the sax player — which resulted in the birth of her first son, Craig, in 1958 — her association with Ike took a romantic turn. Even when she became pregnant with his child, business was never far from his mind. After the band’s first studio recording with Tina netted Ike $25,000, he sensed an opportunity that had nothing to do with love. “My relationship with Ike was doomed the day he figured out I was going to be his money-maker,” Tina, now 78, writes. “He needed to control me, economically and psychologically, so I could never leave him.”
Around this time, Ike gave the future superstar her famous moniker — against her wishes. “Tina” was inspired by a character a favorite television show. He also insisted she take his surname, implying both marriage and a certain degree of ownership. In fact, he even trademarked the name “Tina Turner.”
“I said I didn’t want to change my name and wasn’t sure I wanted to go out on tour. First, he was verbally abusive. Then, he picked up a wooden shoe stretcher. Ike knew what he was doing. If you play guitar, you never use your fists in a fight. He used the shoe stretcher to strike me in the head — always the head,” she says. “I was so shocked I started to cry. Ike ordered me to get on the bed. I hated him at that moment. The very last thing I wanted to do was make love, if you could call it that. When he finished, I laid there with a swollen head, thinking, ‘You’re pregnant and you have no place to go. You really have gotten yourself into something now.'”
Their son Ronnie was born in October 1960, and the couple made their union official two years later with a quickie ceremony in Tijuana. As far as the bride was concerned, their wedding night left something to be desired. “Guess where we went? To a whorehouse. On my wedding night! I’ve never, ever, told anyone this story because I was too embarrassed.”
Marriage did little to stabilize their partnership, and the pressures of growing fame contributed to the tensions. “Our life together was a mockery of a ‘normal’ relationship: defined by abuse and fear, not love, or even affection,” she writes.
Within a few years she had reached a breaking point, and came to believe there was only one way to make the pain stop. “At my lowest, I convinced myself that death was my only way out. I actually tried to kill myself. I went to my doctor and told him I was having trouble sleeping. Right after dinner, I took all 50 of [the pills he gave me]. I was unhappy when I woke up. But I came out of the darkness believing I was meant to survive.”
Following more years of physical and mental torment, Turner famously fled her husband in 1976 with nothing but a Mobil card and 36 cents in her pocket. In a scene that was dramatized in the 1993 biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It, Turner made her escape while the pair were on tour, staying at the Statler Hilton in Dallas, Texas.
From there, she rebuilt her career, playing solo gigs for the first time in decades, and going head to head with her soon-to-be ex-husband in the courts and she sought custody of her kids — and her name.
“I told the judge, ‘It’s only blood money. I want nothing.’ I did have one request. I wanted to continue using the name ‘Tina Turner,’ which Ike owned. I walked out of that courtroom with the name Tina Turner and my two Jaguars, one from Sammy Davis, Jr. and one from Ike, and that’s it. It seems so funny now — no money for food or rent, but two Jaguars! Considering my age, 39, my gender, my color, and the times we lived in, everything was strong winds against me. But you keep going.”
My Love Story is due out on Oct. 16.
If you or someone you know think they are being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now for anonymous, confidential help, available 24/7.