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Queen of Rock 'n' Roll Tina Turner Dies at 83: Her Remarkable Journey, In Her Own Words

The legendary singer spoke to AARP in 2020 about her life, her happiness and her health challenges


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Photo by: Vera Tammen/Trunk Archive

Tina Turner, whose raspy contralto and volcanic stage presence made her a stellar musical icon, died at 83 on May 24 at her home near Zurich.

Born Anna Mae Bullock in tiny Nutbush, Tenn., she was renamed Tina Turner by her bandleader and abusive husband, Ike Turner. She soared as a solo star in her mid-40s, winning three 1985 Grammys for her Private Dancer album. She blazed at an age when most stars dim, and sang with admirers like David Bowie, who compared her to "Bob Hope or Louis Armstrong, as the sort of ambassador of America," and Mick Jagger, who copied a few of her moves and said, "She was inspiring, warm, funny and generous. She helped me so much when I was young and I will never forget her.”

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At 60, she sold a record $100 million-plus in tickets for her 2000 tour, and her spectacular success paved the way for successors like Beyonce, who sang "Proud Mary" at Turner's 2005 Kennedy Center Honors tribute and said, "When I think of inspiration, I think of the two Tinas in my life, my mother Tina, and of course the amazing Tina Turner. I never in my life saw a woman so powerful, so fearless, so fabulous — and those legs!"

Turner spoke to AARP in 2020 about her tough but ultimately triumphant life and work, and her book "Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good." What follows is that interview as told to Alanna Nash.

Healing from within

As a kid, I wanted to get away from working in the cotton fields of Tennessee. I dreamed of going to Hollywood, although I had no idea where that was. Most of all, I dreamed of living a life filled with love and harmony. My mother did not want me. So I focused within for my sense of security. Even in my darkest days, I realized that when I sincerely strove to help myself and kept a peaceful, hopeful outlook, magical things happened. Eventually, I was able to heal my heart and give myself the love I hadn't received when I was young. I like to say that I changed poison into medicine and transformed the difficulties in my life to realize my dreams.

Power in forgiveness …

My mother and I got closer later in life, and I forgave her. I helped her move out to Los Angeles, where she saw my career breakthrough. And I forgave my former husband, Ike Turner, too, for years of domestic violence — black eyes, busted lips, broken bones and psychological torture. At one point I was so despondent, I swallowed 50 sleeping pills in a suicide attempt. But I had to make peace with my past, and forgiveness sets us free. I believe in karma, in cause and effect, so forgiving people for the wrongs they've committed is not the same as excusing their actions. Forgiveness is more about cutting the chains of negativity from whatever has caused us pain.

… and positivity

Spiritually, I believe that all the hard times I went through set up my mission in life: giving hope to others so they can become happy, too. Through everything, my purpose was not only to survive and thrive myself but also to be a positive example and encourage and inspire people to never give up.

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Cherish yourself

I've had some health challenges in recent years — a stroke, a kidney transplant, colon cancer. Sometimes when we go through such difficult experiences, it can feel like we're in a never-ending winter and that spring will never come. But the greatest gifts of wisdom are often found within such challenges. I now have a heightened appreciation of everyday life and feel more deeply how precious our time on Earth is. I want to keep encouraging as many people as I can to cherish their lives. If I can help even one more person to become happy, then I've succeeded.

The music of life

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Tina Turner reciting a Buddhist chant in 1979.
Johnson Publishing Company Archive; courtesy the Ford Foundation, J. Paul Getty Trust, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Smithsonian Institution

It's healthy — and important — to keep a good sense of humor and maintain lighthearted thoughts, even when faced with serious matters or recalling something painful. Laughter is like music. It lifts your spirits. There's a Buddhist saying, “Wise people can always find a way to bring out a smile."

Be natural

We're all one with nature. Some of us feel it more than others. I've always sensed that unseen universal hum and energy, the nourishing rhythm of nature. It connects us to one another and everything else on this beautiful planet, joined by the mystical essence of Mother Nature, the fundamental energy that gives life to all things.

Sing, or don't

I don't perform anymore, and I don't miss it. I do other things and think any creative endeavor helps to nourish your soul, whether it's reading, writing, painting, singing, gardening, volunteering or even caring for pets or loved ones. Anything that requires your heartfelt focus is creative energy.

Aging gratefully

When I turned 80, we had a small celebration, which was lovely. I've definitely grown happier as I've matured, and I have even greater patience and love for others. There is a change in perception, a broadening, that comes with age, a greater appreciation for simple things. But you have to love yourself first.

True beauty

People used to talk about my legs as much as they did about my talent, but I was blind to my own beauty. My advice to women who worry about aging is to nurture gratitude for your life. Remember that true beauty comes from within, from the positive qualities of your heart and mind. And most of all, be kind. Kindness is beautiful. Out of that will come happiness. And happiness is sexy!

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Dec. 9, 2020.

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