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Tina Turner: 'I've had more lives than a cat' | Books | Entertainment

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The queen of rock'n'roll Tina Turner (Image: Miguel Villagran/Getty Images)

Last summer Tina Turner had to face what no mother, famous or not, should ever have to: the tragic death of a much-loved child. In July Tina's eldest son, Craig, committed suicide at his Los Angeles home with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 59. Even Tina's glittering five-decade career - in which she overcame terrible adversity and an abusive marriage to produce chart-topping hits and win 12 Grammy Awards - couldn't soften the blow.

Four months after his death on July 3, I was granted an exclusive interview with Tina in which the pop legend admits she still has powerful memories of Craig, the son she bore at 18 with Raymond Hill, a saxophonist with Ike Turner's backing band.

"It's the little, everyday memories that have the most power," says Tina, 78, in a chat from Château Algonquin, the home she shares with husband Erwin Bach on Lake Zurich.

"I remember how Craig adjusted his eyeglasses on the bridge of his nose and how he always called me 'Dear,' which was funny because no one calls their mother 'Dear!'

"I remember how handsome and proud he looked in his Navy uniform. And I remember - and will always miss - the great talks we had late at night on the phone and whenever he came to visit me."

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FAMILY: Tina with Ike and their sons (Image: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

In such a trying time, Tina turned to her close - and sometimes famous - friends to help her through.

"Oprah is always there for me in good times and in bad," she says.

"She was with me on my happiest day, at my [2013] wedding to Erwin, and she's who I turned to right after Craig passed away. She's a really good listener and asks all the right questions."

Tina's emotions are still running high as she relives memories of her son. Craig was the eldest of the singer's four boys - she had her second son, Ronnie, 58, with wife-beater ex-husband Ike, and adopted two of his sons: Ike Jr, 60, and Michael, 58.

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Tina Turner performs on stage at Wembley Arena during her 'Private Dancer' tour in 1985 (Image: Peter Still/Redferns)

Tina was as loving a mother as she could be to her boys while spending most of her time on tour.

Yet even though she garnered enormous success and wealth, Tina stands by her decision not to give handouts to her children.

"Call me old-fashioned, but I've always believed that giving children too much help can be a curse because it can make them weak," she says.

"I wanted my sons to use their own arms and legs to support themselves, just as I used mine.

"I've been performing since I was a teenager. I enjoyed being on stage and I always gave it my all, but it was time for me to stop. There's an expression, 'Leave the party before it's over.' I think I retired at exactly the right moment."

"Sometimes that attitude was hard for them to understand, especially after I became successful. I tried to teach them that it was important to work - to earn what you want in life." Tina is the embodiment of that ethos.

She retired in 2009 after a career in which she sold more than 200 million records worldwide.

But doesn't she miss the spotlight and the adrenalin rush of the live, adoring crowds who flocked to see her live concerts?Tina chuckles.

"The truth is, I don't miss it at all," she says.

"I've been performing since I was a teenager. I enjoyed being on stage and I always gave it my all, but it was time for me to stop. There's an expression, 'Leave the party before it's over.' I think I retired at exactly the right moment."

Now she enjoys "the freedom of living without a schedule".

"I can sit by the lake for hours," she says. "I can take road trips with Erwin to our place in the country and watch horror movies."

But her idyllic retirement has been shattered - Craig's death is just the latest blow in a decade in which Tina has faced major health battles.

Once famous for her energetic dancing and earthy soul voice that led to solo hits like What's Love Got To Do With It? and Private Dancer, Tina's body has begun to let her down.

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Husband-and-wife R&B duo Ike & Tina Turner pose for a portrait in circa 1972. (Image: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

She is currently nursing a broken hip, only the latest in a long line of ailments that have befallen her along with cancer and, last year, a kidney transplant - the organ was donated by her loving husband.

"Ironically, I never once hurt myself on stage during all those high-energy performances - including dancing on the 'claw' [a crane] as it swung out over the audience," she says. "But I broke my hip while watering my garden!

"I've had more lives than a cat.

It's hard for me to remember all my health issues, because there were so many - high blood pressure, vertigo, a stroke, intestinal cancer, kidney failure and a kidney transplant. And I always thought I was a healthy person.

"I'm in good shape now - I've adjusted to the reality that doctors and check-ups will always be a part of my life. Fortunately, I have really nice doctors."

She's happy to yield the stage to the female singers she blazed a trail for, such as Beyoncé - who performed Tina's hit Proud Mary at a 2005 tribute to her - and Rihanna.

"I admire her incredible strength," says Tina.

Writing her autobiography, My Love Story, this year, meant Tina had to lay bare many secrets, including more sordid details of the abusive relationship with Ike.

Tina - born Anna Mae Bullock - endured a tough upbringing in Tennessee, a mother, Zelma, who ran away when she was 11, then a marriage to Ike characterised by beatings and gruelling tours.

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LOVING GIFT: Husband Erwin donated a kidney to Tina (Image: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)

She has found strength through her Nichiren Buddhist faith and by consulting psychics.

"I can talk to a psychic about anything and everything," says Tina.

"I've been going to them for most of my adult life, ever since one predicted that I would find success without Ike. And that was long before I ever imagined leaving him.

Tina has signed up to Exit, Switzerland's assisted dying programme, an option she will take up if ever she becomes too ill to carry on. "I have no fear of dying, because I've lived a long life," she says.

"When it's time for me to go, I will accept that. I'm also really curious about what happens next. I think that you evolve until you leave the planet and you don't know how far you'll get until you leave. So I'm prepared."

A philosophical Tina says she has no regrets about her colourful life - a life that's encompassed incredible highs and some terrible lows, too.

"I could look back and say I shouldn't have done this or that," she says.

"Maybe I should have left Ike instead of putting up with his abuse. Maybe I should have taken better care of my body, but the truth is that everything happens for a reason.

"Change one thing and you change everything. My life has been a procession of steps leading up to this moment. I'm an optimist. I have no regrets."

To order Tina Turner: My Love Story (published by Century at £20), with free UK delivery, call The Express Bookshop on 01872 562310 with your card details. Alternatively send a cheque made payable to Express Bookshop to Tina Turner Offer, PO Box 200, Falmouth TR11 4WJ. Or buy online at expressbookshop.co.uk


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