The Life of Ike Turner

by Melody VargoMay 1, 2024, , ,
The Life of Ike Turner

Ike Turner and his wife Tina Turner had a streak of R&B hits. He battled drug addiction and died of an unintentional cocaine overdose.

Ike Turner: Who Was He?

Ike Turner, the R&B legend, grew up playing the blues. He met Anna Mae Bullock, a teen and singer, in 1956. He married her and assisted in developing her stage character, Tina Turner. The Ike & Tina Turner Revue was formed, and they went on to have multiple R&B successes, including "I Idolize You," "It's Going to Work Out Fine," and "Poor Fool." In 1971, the duo won their first and only Grammy Award for their cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary." "Nutbush City Limits," written by Tina and released in 1973, was their last hit together. Turner died on December 12, 2007, in San Marcos, California, from a cocaine overdose.

A Musical Start at an Early Age

Ike Wister Turner was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on November 5, 1931. (Despite the fact that his full legal name was Ike Wister Turner, he spent most of his childhood believing his full name was Izear Luster Turner Jr., after his father.) As a child, Turner learned boogie-woogie blues from Pinetop Perkins and began playing it on the piano as a child. Later on, he learned to play the guitar.

Turner formed a group named the Kings of Rhythm in the late 1940s. He and his band traveled to Memphis in 1951 to record at the famed Sun Studios, overseen by recording icon Sam Phillips. Many consider their song "Rocket 88" the first rock & roll recording. It was released under Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats and became a number one R&B smash.

Turner's lead vocalist, Brenston, subsequently departed the group to pursue a solo career. Turner and his band remained in Memphis, frequently recording with blues greats like Elmore James and Buddy Guy. He worked as a talent scout for Modern Records for a period and was instrumental in the discovery of B.B. King and Howlin' Wolf.

Tina and Ike

Turner's life changed dramatically in 1956 when he met a youngster called Anna Mae Bullock. After joining the band, the teenage singer developed a close friendship with Turner. Ike helped Anna Mae Turner become Tina Turner by changing her name and constructing her stage persona after the two married in 1958. In the early 1960s, they became the Ike & Tina Turner Revue and had a string of R&B songs, including "I Idolize You," "It's Going to Work Out Fine," and "Poor Fool."

In the late 1960s, Ike and Tina were asked to open for the Rolling Stones, introducing their bold style of soul-infused rock music to a new audience. With a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary," which charted on both the mainstream and R&B charts, they earned crossover success. In 1971, they won their first and only Grammy Award (for best R&B vocal performance by a group) for this song. "Nutbush City Limits," written by Tina and released in 1973, was their last hit together.

Allegations of Abuse

Ike and Tina Turner lived a radically different life off stage than they had on stage. Tina finally left Ike in 1976 after years of maltreatment due to Ike's alleged drug issue. In her 1986 autobiography, Tina detailed the facts of the abuse. What's Love Got to Do With It, a 1993 film starring Angela Bassett as Tina and Laurence Fishburne as Ike, was based on her book. 

Ike was portrayed as a wife-beating musical virtuoso who was frequently under the influence of narcotics in the film. Both Bassett and Fishburne were nominated for Academy Awards for their roles. Ike, on the other hand, angrily refuted the allegations stated in the book and objected to his portrayal on-screen. In his 1999 book, Takin' Back My Name, he did admit to punching her.

Ike struggled professionally and personally during Tina's independent success in the 1980s and 1990s. From 1990 to 1991, his drug addiction resulted in an 18-month prison sentence for cocaine possession. In 1991, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Turner was still in prison and forced to miss the ceremony.

Success in the Future

Turner's career took a turn for the better near the conclusion of his life. In 2001, he released Here and Now, his first commercial album in 23 years. It received a Grammy nomination (best traditional blues album). The following year, Turner won the W.C. Handy Blues Awards' 2002 Comeback Album of the Year Award. His next original recording, Risin' with the Blues, published in 2006, won him a Grammy for a best traditional blues album.


Turner died of a cocaine overdose at his San Marcos, California, home a year later, on December 12, 2007. High blood pressure and emphysema were contributing factors in his death. Even after his death, Turner's legacy as a blues legend lives on in the musical world.

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