The rebirth of Tina Turner with Private Dancer made her the most talked-about artist on the planet in 1984. After leaving her abusive relationship with Ike Turner, she was left penniless, and her second wind of fame remains a feel-good story for the ages. Few people enjoyed her comeback more than David Bowie, who called her the “ambassador of America”.
Bowie had a strong affiliation with Turner and reportedly also held romantic feelings for the singer, with ‘The Starman’ allegedly trying his best to woo her during the UK leg of her Private Dancer tour in 1985. However, he was also a constant source of support for Turner, and their friendship lasted decades. In his eyes, she was more than just an artist but an emblem of hope.
Together, they performed ‘Tonight’ when the tour rolled into Birmingham at the NEC. Turner’s personal assistant, Eddy Hampton Armani, later remembered that night: “I arrived to see their sound-check on stage and they were teasing each other,” he told The Sun.
“Later they went back to the hotel and had the sushi,” Armani added. “The next morning I went to Tina’s room and she was acting really strangely. She said, ‘Oh my god, David is so naughty’. She told me David came on to her and she said, ‘I thought, ‘Oh, we will have a bit of fun’. And they did.
“Then Tina started laughing and said, ‘He went to have a shower, then he walks out, stark naked, wearing one of my spare wigs. He started singing ‘Rolling On The River’ and was dancing just like me’.”
Years later, Bowie opened up about his appreciation for Turner during a documentary about the singer in 1991. He played down the role he held in helping her career prosper, stating instead that the only key to Turner’s success was her being “great”.
Interestingly, Bowie then speculated on a cultural void that Turner filled, one he believed was more significant than her music alone. He pontificated: “She’s become someone who has taken up the almost traditional position like Bob Hope, or Louis Armstrong, as the sort of ambassador of America. It hasn’t been filled by anybody, but, I think she’s more or less done that.”
Bowie continued, “I think people go to see her for not necessarily the songs, but, I think they go see her for what she represents. The baggage of her past travels with her, and they are going to see her like a phoenix from the ashes which has risen.
“She’s certainly been through worse than many of us have been through, and she’s a survivor. There’s that element of resoluteness, and not letting the world take over from you that people respect. I think she has an enormous amount of dignity.”
The inner strength that Turner exuded on her comeback after drifting into obscurity was not only uplifting but inspiring too. Seeing Turner escape from the shackles of her abuser and ascend into superstardom in spite of her past showed the world that anything was possible. She remains a beacon of light today, and nobody felt more energised by her presence than Bowie.