The woman standing before the manager of a Dallas Ramada Inn looked strangely familiar, but the head scarf, dark sunglasses, and bloodstained white suit didn’t match her onstage persona. ”I have had a fight with my husband,” said Tina Turner. ”Will you give me a room?” With only a Mobil credit card and 36 cents in her possession, the battered singer had finally escaped from her brutal 16-year marriage to Ike Turner — and less than a month later, on July 27, 1976, she filed for divorce.
For years, the duo’s success had made separation unthinkable. Back in 1957, 17-year-old Anna Mae Bullock was fascinated by Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm. After she grabbed the mike one night and belted out the B.B. King standard ”You Know I Love You,” Ike invited her to join the band — and, in 1958, to join him in matrimony. On stage, Tina’s sex-drenched gyrations created a bizarre but fortuitous contrast to Ike’s grooveless, glowering demeanor, and by the mid-’70s, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue had a string of hits including ”River Deep, Mountain High” and ”Proud Mary.” But Ike’s womanizing, his czarlike obsessiveness, and his physical abuse eventually had Tina ready to walk.
Help came from an unexpected source. Ann-Margret, whom she’d met while filming 1975’s Tommy, steered Tina to a good divorce lawyer. In the settlement, Tina gave Ike her share of their studio, publishing companies, four cars, and real estate — a gift worth close to $500,000. ”My peace of mind was more important,” she said.
In fact, Tina’s freedom had an even greater price. After she left Ike, several promoters lost money and sued to recoup their losses. For almost two years she received food stamps, lived with friends, and played small clubs to pay off debts. In 1979, she persuaded record promoter Roger Davies to manage her comeback. ”We sat down and shared some ideas,” he says, ”and we’ve been together ever since.” In 1984, she released Private Dancer, and ”What’s Love Got to Do With It” became her first No. 1 single (and the title of her 1993 biopic). Since then she’s penned an autobiography and done three world tours. In September, she’ll release Wildest Dreams, her first solo album in six years. (Ike, now 64, battled a cocaine addiction and spent 18 months in jail for drug possession. He remarried in 1995.)
Currently living in Europe with 40-year-old record exec Erwin Bach, Tina Turner, at 56, can still strut up a storm — but it was that overdue walk to a Dallas motel that turned her life around. ”When I walked out,” she has said, ”I didn’t look back.”
Time Capsule: July 27, 1976
Moviegoers caught The Man Who Fell to Earth, while readers relived The Final Days of President Nixon; on TV, Laverne and Shirley were Milwaukee’s finest; and the Starland Vocal Band’s ”Afternoon Delight” was just that.