Ike Turner, who was once half of the legendary soul superduo Ike and Tina Turner, is sitting in the visiting room of a California prison, debating semantics. The question at hand is whether Turner, who has served 13 months of a four-year sentence for cocaine possession, was ever actually addicted to the drug. Sure, he used the stuff for 20 years. 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."

Turner's apparent ability to deny what others might consider obvious goes a long way toward explaining his metamorphosis from pop star to prison inmate, as well as the breakup, in 1978, of his 14-year marriage to Tina Turner. He blames his drug problems for the divorce: "This all has to do with me and Tina breaking up," he says. Tina suggests, in her 1986 autobiography, I, Tina, that drugs magnified her mate's worst traits. "He was always violent," writes Tina, who claimed that Ike beat her frequently, "but cocaine made him worse...I thought he was bad before; the cocaine started making him evil."

Hooked on freebase cocaine since 1974, Turner, now 58, was unable to kick the habit until last July, when he began serving his current sentence after he was picked up for drug possession. He had been arrested 10 times previously for drugs and convicted twice. "I was on a 15-year party," he says. "This hole in my nose was so bad that when I would go to sleep, it would be hurtin' so much that I would be tryin' to get my hand up behind my eyeballs...Pain. The first thing I'd want to do when I got up was get cocaine and put it in my nose. That would deaden the pain."

Until he is eligible for parole late in 1991, home is a minimum-security, converted military barracks at the California Men's Colony, San Luis Obispo, where inmates are free to roam manicured lawns and flower gardens, play basketball, pump iron and observe the outside world through barbed wire fences. Among hostile groups, Turner is nonpartisan. "I get along with the Crips, the Bloods, the Klan and the skinheads," he says.

"The first thing he did when he arrived was announce to everybody, 'Hey, I'm Ike Turner,' " says prison guard David Shearer. "The youngsters here tend to look up to him."

The legend in their midst was raised in Clarksdale, Miss., by his seamstress mother, Beatrice Turner, after his father, Izear Luster Turner Sr., a Baptist minister, died in a fight. His mother remarried, but life didn't get less violent. "My step-daddy and mom used to fight a lot," Turner says. "One day he came home and broke her sewing machine. She hit him across the head with a skillet."

An eighth-grade dropout, Turner began to haunt local honky-tonks and started his own group, the Kings of Rhythm, in 1948. In East St. Louis in the early '50s, Turner met Tina, née Anna Mae Bullock, 16, a high school junior from Brownsville, Tenn., who within a year became the band's star attraction. The pair scored their first hit, "A Fool in Love," in 1960 and married in Tijuana in 1962. By 1965, thanks to "River Deep, Mountain High," produced by Phil Spector, they were the First Couple of soul; in 1969 they rocked Woodstock with their cover version of "Proud Mary."

Their marriage, however, was already in trouble. His womanizing was one problem. "I was whorish all my life," says Ike, who once claimed to have bedded more than 100 women while wed to Tina. "I don't know if I'm any better now or not."

His temper was another danger zone. One of the worst incidents occurred in Dallas in the late '60s. "After the first show, I changed clothes, and on my way out Tina was standing close to the door, and she screamed at me," Ike recalls. "I said, 'Don't talk to me like that,' and it was just WHACK! " He claps his hands hard for emphasis. "I wasn't even thinking, because she was screaming, and I can't stand for a woman to scream at me, man, I swear to God, man."

When it was time for the next performance, he says, "She came onstage—she's a strong woman, man—she did the whole show. Afterwards, I said, 'Where you wanna eat?' She said, 'Ike, take me to the hospital. I think my jaw is broke.' She did the whole show without me being able to detect it."

In his defense, Turner takes offense. "Tina didn't know the difference between being a wife and an employee—that it's different onstage than at home," he says. "All the fights Tina and I had were about her being sad about something. I get real emotional if you're worrying and don't tell me what it is. Then I can't think about nothing else. So I'd slap her or something like that."

Even after the divorce, Tina remained afraid of her ex. In 1981 she said that shots had been fired into her home. In her book she writes, "By this time, the cops were getting real interested in this Ike Turner guy." Ike, enraged by the accusation, protests his innocence. "I had nothing to do with the shooting of her house," he says. "If I had wanted to do something, man, and Tina knows this, I'd go up and blow that f——-' house off that f——' hill. I had no intention of doing anything to her or the kids [their son, Ronnie, now 28; Ike's two sons, Ike Jr., 31 and Michael, 29; and Tina's son Craig, 31]. It was the furthest thing from my mind."

Tina, who declined to comment for this article, once claimed to have signed over everything, "property, masters, rights, royalties" to free herself from Ike. He claims that what he got were debts, problems and a measly $6,000 a year in royalties, and that, even now, Tina owes him. After his release, he says, "I'm going to reopen our divorce and file suit, for slander. I still love her, but I don't like her because she forgot where she came from. Last year I read Tina made $35 million. That name isn't really her name. The name 'Tina Turner' belongs to me. I won't settle for less than $70 million."

"I don't think that would fly," says Hy Mizrahi, Ike's loyal friend and agent for 20 years. "It's his own foolishness. If anything, Tina pulled him up. She and [her manager] Roger Davies have been swell to us. Ike will realize this and come out of prison a better man."

Perhaps. In the meantime, he rises at 6 A.M., works six hours a day in the prison library and lays plans to form a band upon his release. "I got good songs, good musicians, everything I need to get out of here and go No. 1," he says. "Drugs are the furthest thing from my life." Adds Mizrahi: "I think he can get back on his feet. If anyone has got nine lives, it's Ike Turner. But eight are gone."

—Steve Dougherty, Lorenzo Benet in San Luis Obispo

  • Contributors:
  • Lorenzo Benet.