Tina Turner triumphed over numerous adversities on her journey to finding lasting happiness.
The legendary singer, who became known as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” died on Tuesday at the age of 83 at her home in Küsnacht, Switzerland, after a long illness, according to her rep. Throughout her life, Turner overcame a series of obstacles including an unhappy childhood, an abusive marriage, a stagnated career, the loss of close family members and serious health challenges.
In a 2021 interview with Harvard Business Review (HBR), the eight-time Grammy Award winner shared how embracing the spiritual practices of Buddhism transformed her life.
“I used to be baffled about why I had to endure so much abuse, because I hadn’t done anything to deserve it,” Turner told the outlet. “After I began practicing Buddhism, I realized that my hardships could give me a mission—a purpose.”
She continued, “I saw that by overcoming my obstacles, I could build indestructible happiness and inspire others to do the same. Then I could see everything that came my way, both the highs and the lows, as an opportunity for self-improvement and for sparking hope in others.”
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Turner’s personal experience led her to pen her 2020 memoir “Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good” with the goal of sharing the wisdom she had gained and providing her readers with tools to chart their own paths to happiness.
In the book, the hitmaker recalled being raised in a Baptist community in Nutbush, Tennessee, before turning to Buddhism at the age of 33.
Turner told HBR that she saw commonalities between both faiths as she reflected on the impact that spirituality had on her life and career.
“Of everything I’ve done to succeed as an artist, spirituality has had the greatest influence,” she said. “The Buddhist teachings of compassion and kindness, which have much in common with the principles of ‘Love thy neighbor’ and ‘Do unto others’ that I learned from the Baptist influences in my childhood, have always been guiding forces for me.”
She continued, “After I began studying Buddhism and chanting ‘Nam-myōhō-renge-kyō,’ I felt as if a different person emerged. My true self came out, and I became cheerful, confident, and resilient. My approach to life and work became calmer and more thoughtful, and my reactions were more tempered. I used to get angry first and ask questions later.”
“But after I embraced Buddhism, it flipped. I could easily stay calm and figure out the details instead of jumping to conclusions. I came to understand that any achievement stems from inner change. The more I studied Buddhist principles, the deeper I dug within myself and cleaned up whatever attitudes or habits were standing in my way.
“And the more I chanted and aligned my goals with an authentic desire to inspire happiness in others, the more my life began to improve. I credit my spiritual practice with all the positive transformations—from the smallest to the largest—I’ve had in my career and personal life,” she added.
In “Happiness Becomes You,” the “What’s Love Got To Do With It” singer detailed how she eventually adopted the Buddhist practice of chanting at the urgings of three unconnected people she encountered over three months in 1973.
At the time, Turner was struggling both personally and professionally. For years, she had hidden the abuse that she endured at the hands of her first husband and musical partner Ike Turner. The two met when Turner was 17 and married five years later.
“Living with Ike was a challenging series of ordeals,” Turner wrote in her memoir. “He changed my name from Anna Mae Bullock to Tina Turner in the early days of our relationship, despite my protests. After that, during our difficult ascent to fame in the 1960s as the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, I suffered years of domestic violence, both emotional and physical.
“Busted lips, black eyes, dislocated joints, broken bones, and psychological torture became a part of everyday life,” she recalled. “I got used to suffering and tried to keep myself sane while somehow managing his insanity. I felt there was no way out.”
Turner’s despair led to a suicide attempt in 1968, which she revealed for the first time in her 2018 memoir “My Love Story.” After Turner began practicing Buddhism years later, she began finding the resolve to leave Ike. At the time, Turner recalled that Ike rarely let her leave the house without him and tried to dissuade her from practicing chanting.
“I realize now that he mostly feared the person I could become through my spiritual practice,” she wrote. “His hold on me was threatened because chanting strengthened me.”
Turner filed for divorce from Ike in the summer of 1976, and their split was finalized in 1978. In her interview with HBR, Turner credited chanting with giving her the strength and clarity that she needed to end her marriage.
“For a long time I felt like I was stuck, with no way out of the unhealthy situation I was in,” she said. “Not knowing where I was headed or what I could do to get out was painful.”
She continued, “But then I had a series of encounters with different people who encouraged me to start chanting. Finally, I listened. Thanks to this practice, I started to become conscious of the tendencies that were holding me back and bringing me down. And once I could see myself clearly, I began to change, opening the way to confidence and courage. It took a few years, but finally I was able to stand up for my life and start anew.”
Though Turner had broken free from her abusive marriage, her divorce left her saddled with debt and in dire financial straits. For the next few years, she struggled to gain any traction in her solo career. Despite her challenges, Turner told HBR that she never thought of quitting.
“I never considered giving up on my dreams,” she said. “You could say I had an invincible optimism. And I always knew that the ‘what’ was more important than the ‘how.’ In other words, although I had a hard time seeing how I could make my dreams come true, I focused more on what I wanted to achieve in my life, personally and professionally. I took actions day by day, often outside my comfort zone, to better myself and bring me closer to those goals. In Buddhism we call this inner process of transformation ‘human revolution.’”
Turner’s perseverance paid off in 1983 when she recorded a cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” that became a surprise hit and paved the way for her 1984 solo studio album “Private Dancer.”
“Private Dancer” became the biggest critical and commercial success of Turner’s solo career. The album’s lead single “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” became Turner’s first and only song to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and at 44-years-old, she became the oldest female artist with a number one hit.
“What’s Love Got To Do With It?” went on to win three Grammy Awards including best female pop vocal performance, song of the year and record of the year.
The album’s success cemented Turner’s career comeback and launched her to global stardom. In 1991, she and Ike were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and she received the honor again as a solo artist in 2021. In 2009, Turner officially retired after completing her “Tina!: 50th Anniversary Tour.”
In her interview with HBR, Turner credited Buddhist teachings with helping her confront any discrimination based on race, age and gender that she faced in her career.
“I’ve always felt that superficial differences like skin color and social status shouldn’t matter,” she explained. “In my view any labels people use to separate ‘us’ and ‘them’ are illusions and delusions. I do my best to see people as individuals and emphasize common ground. This is also what my Buddhist faith teaches: that our essential identities as human beings are equally precious, regardless of differences.”
She continued, “When I started as a solo artist, I was a female Black singer in my forties with no money and few prospects for gigs. Still, I kept a ‘never give up’ spirit. I understood that although many people might have a limited view of me, I could help open their minds.”
“Through hard work and determination, I showed all the naysayers that maybe their preconceived doubts were wrong. Part of my spiritual practice is to ‘change poison into medicine,’ to take negative situations or roadblocks and transform or remove them through positivity. The force of my positivity pushed all the discriminatory ‘isms’ standing in my way right out the window.”
In addition to her career success, Turner also found happiness in her personal life. She wed German music producer Erwin Bach in a lavish ceremony at their home on Lake Zurich in Switzerland on July 4, 2013, after dating for 27 years. The pair, who first met and fell in love in 1985, remained married until her death.
Turner battled several illnesses in recent years including intestinal cancer, a stroke, high blood pressure and kidney failure. She told HBR that she leaned on her spirituality during those challenging times.
“For more than 50 years now, I’ve relied on my spiritual practice to get me through difficult experiences,” Turner said. “The most important thing I’ve learned when facing bleak circumstances is to choose hope over despair.”
“Sometimes our problems seem like they will never end,” she added. “I know that a lot of us are feeling that way now. But as one of my favorite Buddhist sayings goes, ‘Winter always turns to spring.’ My challenges can either make me a better version of myself or break me apart, and I have a choice as to which it will be.”
“It’s so important to remember that you do have a choice, even when it feels as if you don’t. I choose to be hopeful and to honor each experience in my life, negative and positive, as a chance to increase my wisdom, courage, and compassion.”
The music icon told the outlet that she “absolutely” believed that anyone could achieve happiness.
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“Regardless of cultural or religious background, personal beliefs, or any other factor, each one of us can open the path to our personal version of a peaceful and happy life,” Turner said. “The advice I share in ‘Happiness Becomes You’ is meant to help all people tap into their own wellspring of joy. I’m confident everyone can because I did it myself, even after facing seemingly impossible circumstances time and again. I’m not superhuman. I’m just a lady from Nutbush, Tennessee. If I can do it, we all can.”
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In “Happiness Becomes You,” Turner wrote that she had gained a new perspective after weathering life’s ups and downs.
“If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that encountering adversity, as I have, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s what we make of it, how we use it to shape ourselves and our futures, that ultimately determines our success and happiness. The thicker the mud, the stronger the lotus that blooms from it, rising above the muck to reach the sun. The same is true for people.”
If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).