Tina Turner: Life, Legend, Superstar, Survivor

Lina AbiRafeh
4 min readMay 24, 2023

Today we lost a legend. We will spend the next few days celebrating her life, recalling her legend, honoring her legacy. And probably also praising her legs. But Tina Turner was so much more than these things. I’ll let other articles talk about her musical genius, and how she inspired generations. There are so many stories to tell, and I won’t do them justice. And I certainly won’t reduce her to mere body parts. Tina was… multitudes.

For this piece, at this moment, I want to focus on one thing: her life as a survivor.

Survivors are much more than survivors, of course. They are individuals with full rich lives and stories and identities. They cannot be reduced to this one thing — an incident they played no part in causing. Still, surviving intimate partner violence is a well known aspect of Tina’s life that is worth highlighting because of the impact it had on other survivors. Furthermore, Tina spoke out about abuse, in the public eye, at a time when it was less widely accepted — and it has remained a focal point of her legacy in the media.

Tina met her first husband and long term artistic partner Ike Turner at the young age of 16. And has since shared that she felt like she had little choice but to date him because she needed the work. They quickly rose to musical stardom over the course of their 14 year marriage, garnering accolades and marrying in 1962. Their star power was as much related to their music as it was their relationship — which played to Tina’s detriment when she spoke out.

In the mid-70’s Ike’s abuse of drugs turned into physical abuse. In 1976 she fled the marriage with little to her name. Her divorce in 1978 and canceled tour dates left her in debt, and she was faced with trying to reinvent herself and re-ignite her career. Ike’s abuse of Tina was first documented in a 1981 interview with People magazine. She used the interview to try to set the record straight and redefine the narrative around their separation and the dissolution of their famed musical duo. This allowed her to rise to fame as a solo artist, but also followed her throughout her life.

Her abuse has since been documented in the 1986 memoir I, Tina, co-written by Kurt Loder, a biopic based on the book titled What’s Love Got to Do With It? And finally in the film Tina, released in March of 2021.

The book and films generated a great deal of conversation about intimate partner violence. Tina’s intention was to share it with the world and move on. The world seemed to have other ideas. Instead, she was, as one article states, “forced to repeatedly — and reluctantly — recount the worst things that have ever happened to her.” This never was — and never should have been — what defines her, but it became a defining moment in her career, her story, and the public’s consumption of it.

When asked about the movie, Tina replied that she had not seen it, and that she did not need the “constant reminder” of the violence and brutality. In many ways, she was revictimized by the press, who hounded her for comment about the experience, forcing her to relive it again and again.

Writer Rae Alexandra puts it best, reminding us that we can “honor the struggle of survivors without primarily defining them by it,” and that doing so denies survivors “the autonomy they have fought so hard to get back.”

At the same time, from the perspective of survivors, her story reached people who were trapped in similar situations, women who endured abuse and did not share it — and could not escape it. This is groundbreaking. It is a #MeToo moment before the movement, an opportunity to offer a small sense of hope to survivors. And while there might not be record of those who decided to speak, to share their story, or even to leave — inspired by Tina, I imagine those women exist.

Every time a survivor shares a story, difficult though it may be, it is a call to other survivors that they are not alone, and that it is possible to have a life after violence. Tina’s story is inspirational — and unique — but it ignited a critical conversation around intimate partner violence and the survivor experience. It is also a stark reminder that under no circumstances ever are survivors to blame. The perpetrator bears sole responsibility — without exception.

Tina’s story is also an illustration of how hard it is to leave, and how much abuse women endure before they decide to leave. Many do not leave at all. All of these things are taking place far more frequently than we imagine — and often to those closest to us. Her story is a reminder that none of us are immune, and that the fight for survivor rights must continue. We all need to be aware that this is happening, and to demand that services and support exist. Equally important, the law needs to be clear that such abuse is a crime and cannot be tolerated under any circumstances, nor can it continue to be perpetrated in silence, secrecy, or with impunity. This too must end.

On Tina’s story, Oprah Winfrey said: “Nobody talked about sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic abuse — abuse, period. Our generation is the generation that started to break the silence.” Today, we speak of violence more frequently, but we have yet to end it. The road is long, and perhaps Tina’s legacy was also to shine a spotlight on this road, and to help others walk it with her.

So today, we honor Tina for her bravery and take lessons from her struggle. May her legacy live on in the way we treat all survivors.

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Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights expert, author, speaker, aid worker, feminist activist with 25 years of experience in 20 countries worldwide - and lots of stories!