45 Years Ago: Tina Turner Files for Divorce From Ike Turner
Tina Turner ended her first marriage the hard way: She left everything she had and ran.
The singer made the decision while on tour with husband Ike Turner in Dallas in 1976. The relationship had been physically, emotionally and financially abusive for years. She filed the divorce papers on July 27, 1976, citing irreconcilable differences. “Maybe I was brainwashed. I was afraid of him, and I cared what happened to him. And I knew that if I left, there was no one to sing,” Turner said an a 1981 interview with People, as related in the 2021 documentary Tina.
Tina and Ike met when she showed up at one of his concerts in St. Louis in the ‘50s. After he heard her sing, she joined the band and begun playing weekly gigs with them at the age of 17. In 1960, he renamed the band the Ike & Tina Turner Review to spotlight her and then proposed. They were married in 1962.
"He threw hot coffee in my face, giving me third-degree burns," Tina wrote in her 2018 memoir, My Love Story. "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.” Tina further admitted that she attempted to die by suicide (intimate partner violence is tied to negative mental health outcomes, putting the victim at increased risk of making an attempt).
Tina also revealed that Ike sent his “stooges” to intimidate her while the divorce proceedings continued. She was on food stamps at the time, living with their four sons, because Ike controlled all the contracts and their money. All the publishing rights to their music was in his name also, leaving Tina with no source of income. The family was forced to live in her assistant’s house for a time just after the divorce papers were filed; Tina recalled men who worked for Ike coming to destroy the property as part of the intimidation campaign, going so far as to shoot out car windows in the driveway and even shooting into the house.
Their relationship and its aftermath, as well as Ike’s control over her career and life, left Tina with PTSD. “My relationship with Ike was doomed the day he figured out I was going to be his moneymaker,” she wrote in My Love Story. “He needed to control me, economically and psychologically, so I could never leave him.”
So Tina made a move to reclaim her self-identity in the divorce. She asked for nothing more than her stage name. She gave Ike her half of the rights to all the music they recorded together, all the money they made together, the studio they’d built and all the property they owned in exchange for her freedom and her name.
Their money issues didn’t end there, however. When they broke up their musical relationship, numerous promoters who lost money on the shows they were supposed to play during that aborted 1976 tour sued for their losses. Tina was forced to pay her share of those lawsuits.
It took some time, but the Queen of Rock eventually convinced Capitol Records to sign her in 1979. By 1984, she had one of the biggest albums, Private Dancer, and biggest careers of the decade.