Magazine article Ebony

The Last Days of Ike Turner: The Story of a Rock 'N' Roll Legend Who Lived Hard, Loved Life but Couldn't Quite Let Go of His Past

Magazine article Ebony

The Last Days of Ike Turner: The Story of a Rock 'N' Roll Legend Who Lived Hard, Loved Life but Couldn't Quite Let Go of His Past

Article excerpt

Going to jail in 1989 was the best thing that ever happened to Ike Turner.

Locked up as prisoner #E4678 at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo, the pioneering rock 'n' roll musician who invented a genre of music and trained several rock legends at his knee, was able to end his "15-year party" with drugs while serving two years and two months on drug charges.

Turner, who had more musical talent than a busload of today's popular bands, stayed drug-free for more than a decade. He even talked to others about the importance of not making the same mistakes he had made.

But, in 2004, while reaching out to help another person turn away from drugs, Turner was lured back into the drug world.

Three years later, he would be dead.

Looking back, Phil Arnold, Turner's longtime manager, recalls the moment when someone in need, a crack house and a puff of smoke charmed the troubled legend down that one-way path to hell.

"Ike responded to a cry for help and went to the wrong place at the wrong time to rescue a crack addict he knew. Ike said, 'Smoke blew up in my face, and that is all it took--that first whiff.' He was the fireman who went into the burning building one too many times."

In the end, Turner, who stood S-foot-8, never really got past his drug relapse four years ago. His chronic emphysema, diagnosed in 1994 just a year after he quit smoking, forced him to rely on either a bulky electric oxygen tank or a portable model to help him breathe. He would often cry, say family members, expressing frustration that he wasn't able to move beyond his addictions.

On Dec. 12, 2007, with his caretaker by his side, a thin, 76-year-old Ike Wister Turner died from the very thing he thought he had beaten in jail.

"Cocaine toxicity."


Those two words led the San Diego County Medical Examiner to list Turner's death as an "accident." The autopsy and toxicology reports also listed contributing conditions as "hypertensive cardiovascular disease" and "pulmonary emphysema."

Background singer Falina Rasool, Turner's personal assistant and caretaker who was with Turner the day he died, remembers, "When people heard this, a lot of people were disturbed that this man was still using. I know he was trying to quit. It had a hold on him. It was too strong for him. He tried with everything he had. He wanted out."


In the last days of Ike Turner, the groundbreaking musician and bandleader behind the first rock 'n' roll record found it difficult to let go of many things.

He never got over the 1976 divorce from his ex-wife, Tina Turner. And he never got over their career split and the professional union as Ike and Tina Turner, which won them international acclaim as one of music's first crossover acts. Ike was the force behind the duo's musical success and was also the engine that helped drive it into trouble.

"There was not a day that would go by that he didn't watch videos with Tina," says Rasool. "Two days before he died, we were watching Tina. He could tell you everything that happened at that time, like the arguments they had before they got onstage. He could remember everything. Nothing altered his mind."

Ike and Tina Turner were together 16 years before divorcing. Her accounts of spousal abuse were documented in the 1986 autobiography I, Tina, and in the 1993 movie What's Love Got To Do With It. Tina Turner has since expressed her disappointment in the movie, saying, "I would have liked for them to have had more truth, but according to Disney [owner of the film's production company], they said, it's impossible, the people would not have believed the truth." She declined to speak with EBONY magazine for this story.

The two had no contact in more than three decades even though one son, Ronnie Turner, was born during this union in 1960. …

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