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Stage Flight

updated 12/04/2000 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/04/2000 01:00AM

She has spent 40 years shimmying across the world's concert stages in her trademark 4-in. heels. So it's not surprising to hear Tina Turner confess that when she is at home in Zurich, she loves to "sit for what seems like hours" on a second-floor balcony overlooking a fountain on the grounds of her lakeside mansion. "At a certain time of day the sun comes into that place," says Turner. "I love that spot. I don't need music. I have my chimes, the fountain is running. I sit there in a very relaxed state of mind."

The fountain better get used to the company. On Dec. 6 Turner, who turns an amazing 61 on Nov. 26, plays Anaheim, Calif., in the last show of a sold-out 116-concert world tour that began in March. It also marks the end of her storied touring career. (A taped special of a London concert airs on CBS Dec. 4.) On this final concert odyssey, noted USA Today, Turner continued to display "the raw energy and earthy sensuality that have made her a rock and soul icon," while The New York Times announced that she "has mastered the rock spectacle." So why quit now? "I'm still in good shape, I still have the energy, but when you work at a job for so long, you start to feel the need to make a change," says Turner, who still plans to record and make occasional live appearances. "I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm not even thinking about it. I'm just enjoying the fact that I won't have a calendar for a few years!"

"No calendar" doesn't necessarily mean fewer dates, however. Turner happily plans to spend more time with her best friend and companion of 14 years, German-born Erwin Bach, 44, an EMI record company executive. "He's very independent, and Tina likes that," says the singer's longtime manager Roger Davies. "He goes off on these motorbike trips around Europe with his friends. It's not like he devotes his whole life to her." When the two are at home together, usually at the Zurich estate they moved into in 1998, they share a comfortably mundane domestic life, enjoying leisurely breakfasts and bicycle rides. As often as possible they spend long weekends at Turner's seaside retreat in the South of France and routinely invite friends over for dinner. "Erwin does the cooking, absolutely!" says Turner, whose food favorites include pasta and Thai. "He's better at it than I am and I don't enjoy it as much as he does." But while she and Bach act like any other married couple, "The Wedding March" is not on her current playlist. "We are married—we just haven't walked down the aisle, and until there's a need to, we probably won't," says the woman who survived a tempestuous and degrading almost-20-year relationship with her soul partner Ike Turner. Adds the never-married Bach: "We don't need a marriage to be together. Some people need that security thing, but I think if you're internally happy with your partner, you don't need symbols."

Turner also no longer feels a need for the relentless grind of concert life, an epiphany the practicing Buddhist (she chants daily) experienced on her 50th birthday. "I decided I would work myself to a place where I can retire, and be financially secure and live nicely and enjoy knowing that I don't have to work ever again unless it's something I want to do," she says. "I feel really fortunate to have arrived at that." And the way Turner sees it, retirement comes in the nick of time. "I'm rock and roll, and I'm a woman," she says, "and at a certain age you stop looking the part."

Plenty of fans would disagree: In a recent PEOPLE survey about body image, Turner finished second to Goldie Hawn—and ahead of Sophia Loren, Candice Bergen, Cher and Jane Fonda—when respondents were asked whom they would most want to look like after age 50. "She stands for strength and resilience and beauty," says close friend Oprah Winfrey. "It's been a long, hard road to get to where she is today, and that's why she's such an inspiration to so many of us—she reminds us of what we can be, what we can do."

Indeed, Turner's tale of triumph over tragedy is well-known to even the most casual music fan, thanks to the hit 1993 film about her life, What's Love Got to Do With It. There was the difficult childhood as Anna Mae Bullock, the daughter of a sharecropper and a beautician (the couple later split up) who, along with her sister Alline, now 63, was raised mostly by relatives in Nutbush, Tenn. And of course the tumultuous years that followed as Mrs. Ike Turner, when the duo enjoyed chart-topping success—with songs like "I Want to Take You Higher" and "Proud Mary"—but during which she also endured beatings by Ike so severe, she later told 60 Minutes, that she eventually had to have her nose reconstructed. Finally, there was the 1976 decision to leave her marriage, which left her struggling to make it as a solo act. "We were rejected everywhere," Davies recalls. "There were times when I really did feel like giving up. But Tina said, 'No, don't worry. We're going to get there.' "

Get there she did. In 1983, after her remake of "Let's Stay Together" became a smash hit in Europe (the Continent's embrace of her music played a big factor in Turner's decision to move there almost two decades ago), Capitol Records pushed Turner to release an album. The result, Private Dancer, produced a slew of hit singles including "What's Love Got to Do With It" and "Better Be Good to Me." Six Grammys followed, as did a starring role opposite Mel Gibson in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and a seven-figure advertising-and-tour-sponsorship deal to show off her famous legs in Hanes hosiery.

In 1991 Turner, who has been cited as an inspiration by such superstars as Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Melissa Etheridge, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an honor well-earned by a woman who has sold more than 80 million records worldwide. Last year she performed on VH1's Divas Live and in January sang at the Super Bowl. "She always had a plan and knew that a better life was out there for her," says Winfrey. "That's what kept her spirit alive."

But it also took a toll on her family, which includes son Craig, 42 (from a relationship before her marriage), Ronald, 40, and stepsons Ike Jr., 42, and Michael, 41. "Had I been with them more, I think I could have helped them a lot more with their lives," says a wistful Turner. Reluctant to provide details about how her children, whom she still helps support financially, have fared, she adds, "A few of them haven't done so well with their lives...and some still haven't gotten to the place where they want to get. All I can do is hope for the best."

She's also hoping to use her retirement to reestablish her maternal ties. Turner, more than most, understands the danger of an absent mother figure. She says her own mother, Zelma Bullock, devoted little time to raising her. "My mother never really knew me—and my success she always attributed to Ike. She never thought it was me, so there was always a gap between us," she says. By the early '80s Turner had forgiven her mother, and she took care of Zelma until her death from lung cancer last year at age 80. "She ended up living in a very nice house, being very respected and recognized as Tina Turner's mother," says Turner. "I think her last days were her best."

For now the perpetually moving pop star has hit the Pause button. With only days remaining before her final bow, Turner proudly surveys her rollicking, groundbreaking years onstage. "What a way to go," she marvels. "I can step down and say, 'I did it, I enjoyed it, and I went out the right way.' "

Galina Espinoza
Fannie Weinstein in New York City

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