Ike Turner and Cocaine: A Devastating Dance


Cocaine ended up sending Ike Turner to jail -- and serving as a catalyst in his death. - LAST.FM
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  • Cocaine ended up sending Ike Turner to jail -- and serving as a catalyst in his death.

There's a well-established struggle in Ike Turner's musical legacy. Although he's considered a rock and roll innovator, his musical accomplishments were sometimes overshadowed by his personal struggles.

While Turner's abusive behavior toward Tina Turner garners plenty of attention, another lingering demon -- drug abuse -- caught up with the former St. Louis resident 22 year ago. On February 16, 1990, Ike Turner was sentenced to four years in prison for a variety of cocaine-related offenses. He eventually was paroled before his entire sentence was completed.

Back in the 1960s, according to Ebony magazine, Turner had a far different view of drugs and alcohol. The article states that Turner didn't drink or use drugs for the early part of his career. He even fired members of the Kings of Rhythm that consumed either substance.

But Turner's attitude changed considerably. Ebony cites an excerpt of Turner's autobiography stating how the musician was introduced to cocaine by "two well-known performers in Las Vegas, both now deceased." Turner tried the drug while writing songs at his piano, and was soon purchasing "pure cocaine" from South America. In September 1990, Turner was interviewed by People Magazine while serving out his jail sentence. He told reporter Steve Dougherty that cocaine not only emptied his wallet, but also ravaged his body:

And yes, he claims to have spent more than $100,000 on coke in a two-month period in 1989 (he says friends stole much of it). As further evidence of his dalliance with coke, Turner takes a felt tip pen and pokes it into his nose so that a visitor can see the tip of the pen slide straight through his septum, the cartilage that normally divides the nostrils.

"See that?" he says. "It's a hole, completely through to the other side." Nonetheless, Turner says later during the interview, "I don't know if [my cocaine use] was an addiction."

While he was in jail, Ike and Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After his release from prison, he received a financial boost when Salt-n-Pepa sampled "I'm Blue" in the song "Shoop." He managed to have a mini-renaissance of sorts in the 2000s, winning a Grammy and performing in Gorillaz's "Every Planet We Reach is Dead."

Cocaine would come back at the very end of Turner's life. The San Diego County Medical Examiner's office said in January 2008 that a cocaine overdose was responsible for Turner's death. Contributing factors included hypertensive cardiovascular disease and pulmonary emphysema.

Drug use is obviously not an uncommon phenomenon in the music world. But for Ike Turner, cocaine addiction was just another aspect of his troubling personal legacy.

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