Most of us remember the brutality brought to life on screen in the 1993 Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It, which chronicled the entertainer’s rise to fame under the thumb and almost constant threat of abusive ex-husband and Svengali Ike Turner.
The film was named for Tina’s blockbuster hit single of the same name, and adapted from her explosive 1987 memoir, I, Tina, co-written with former MTV News journalist Kurt Loder. Long before trigger warnings would become a regularity (and please consider this one), Tina (born Anna Mae Bullock) revealed, in detail, the years of abuse, humiliation and manipulation she’d endured during her 16-year marriage, including public beatings, infidelity, and a suicide attempt.
The hit film, which Tina purportedly refused to watch, also depicted Ike raping her—which at the time, he denied. Since that time, the scene has been reported to have been “fictionalized for dramatic purposes.”
Ike Turner died in 2007. Now, Tina is revisiting their troubled story and doubling down on her assertions of abuse in a new memoir, My Love Story, due out on October 16 and excerpted for England’s Daily Mail.
For those already familiar with the Turners’ story, many of the details will be recognizable, as they parallel the plot of the film. But what is gripping is how vividly the now 78-year-old Tina still recalls the abuse, 40 years later. In fact, she asserts that the first time Ike struck her was years before their marriage, when the singer, pregnant with their first child together (her second), dared rebel against changing her name to the one we now know so well.
That was the first time Ike hit me. He picked up a wooden shoe stretcher and struck me on the head — always the head, I learned through experience — and it really hurt. I was so shocked that I started to cry.
Ike’s response was to order me to get on the bed. I really hated him at that moment; the very last thing I wanted to do was make love, if you could call it that.
When he’d finished, I lay there with a swollen head, thinking: ‘You’re pregnant, Anna, and you have no place to go.’
Tina says sex was a preoccupation of Ike’s; not depicted in her biopic was that he took her to a sex show the night of their wedding in Tijuana, Mexico.
“The experience was so disturbing that I just scratched it out,” she writes. “By the time we got back to Los Angeles, I’d created a completely different scenario in my head—a romantic elopement.”
As the marriage progressed, as did Ike’s cocaine abuse, Tina reports the physical abuse and disrespect did as well, writing, “Our life together was defined by abuse and fear.” Ike’s unilateral control included her wardrobe, performances and finances, and was marked by constant disrespect, including keeping several other lovers in their home. The despair drove Tina to a suicide attempt in 1968.
“I knew I should leave, but I had no money and didn’t know how to take the first step,” she writes. “At my lowest, I convinced myself that death was my only way out.”
It’s a feeling familiar to anyone who has been a victim of domestic violence, which is also generally marked by financial control, isolation from support and often extends to sexual aggression, as well. As Tina describes:
For me, though, sex with Ike had become an expression of hostility—a kind of rape—especially when it began or ended with a beating. What had been ugly and hateful between us before became worse with every snort of cocaine. He threw hot coffee in my face, giving me third-degree burns.
He used my nose as a punching bag so many times that I could taste blood running down my throat when I sang.
He broke my jaw. And I couldn’t remember what it was like not to have a black eye.
The people closest to us saw what was happening, but they couldn’t stop him: any attempt to help me would make him more violent.
I was a frequent visitor to Emergency, although most of the time I just pulled myself together, applied make-up to the bruises and showed up at the next performance.
If the doctors thought it was unusual that I had so many ‘accidents,’ they didn’t say anything. They probably thought that was just the way black people were, always fighting.
While it’s not known if Tina and her publishers intentionally timed the release of her new memoir with National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, her story is a timely reminder of what’s at stake for millions of victims around the world. But as we know, her ongoing story—including a happy remarriage—ultimately became one of triumph, as she reminds readers:
“For anyone who’s in an abusive relationship, I say this: nothing can be worse than where you are now. Nothing,” she writes. “If you get up and leave, if you rise from the ashes, life will open up for you again.”
If you or anyone you know is in need of anonymous, confidential help, 24/7, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).