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St. John's was a 'safe' spot for Tina Turner, and Newfoundlanders remember her fondly

A man places flowers outside the Aldwych Theatre in London, Thursday, May 25, 2023. London's Aldwych Theatre is housing the Tina Turner musical where fans put down tribute to the unstoppable singer and stage performer who died Wednesday, after a long illness at her home in Kuesnacht near Zurich, Switzerland, according to her manager. She was 83.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Kin Cheung

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Tina Turner is being remembered in Newfoundland and Labrador for her kindness, her connection with the province, and for the series of unforgettable shows she played in St. John's to kick off the North American tour for her biggest album.

Geoff Meeker was a 28-year-old writer and editor with The Newfoundland Herald magazine when Turner arrived in St. John's in July 1985 to launch the "Private Dancer" tour, which helped reinvent her career. The small province on Canada's East Coast had never seen anything like the four shows Turner and her band played at Memorial Stadium, he said.

"She was on top of the world at that point," Meeker said in an interview Thursday. "She could have played anywhere in the world. But she came here because it was backwater. She was attracted by the fact that it was a quiet place, a beautiful place."

Meeker said Turner and her band arrived about a week before her first show, and they could be spotted walking casually down Water Street, which is the main street in St. John's.

"People would say to her, 'Hi Tina!' And that was it," he said. 

"They'd keep on going, and there was no mobbing of her at all," he said, adding that she was kind and warm to everyone who approached her, including him.

Turner died Wednesday at the age of 83. She is being remembered across the globe as a formidable singer and performer, whose life was an awe-inspiring story of triumph.

She released "Private Dancer" when she was 44, eight years after she'd escaped an abusive marriage to Ike Turner, with whom she'd built a successful career in the 1960s and ‘70s. The album was a massive hit that sold more than eight million copies and won four Grammys. "Private Dancer" and its accompanying tour firmly established Turner as a solo artist, in a feat said to be among the greatest comebacks in pop music history.

Needless to say, it was a big deal for Turner to launch part of that tour in Newfoundland and Labrador, which was home to about 579,000 people in 1985, said Marit Stiles.

"It was the talk of the town. I feel like at that moment we felt like we were at the centre of the universe," said Stiles, who was 15 at the time. She grew up in Newfoundland and is now the leader of Ontario's New Democrat Party.

Stiles couldn't get tickets to the show, but she was babysitting for two kids just down the street from the St. John's stadium where Turner played. She said she could hear the concert -- and all of the wild cheering -- when she opened the windows.

"I can very clearly remember hearing the songs enough that I could make them out, and feeling like I was close enough to it, to something really big and important happening," Stiles said. She remembers feeling proud that someone like Turner felt that Newfoundland was a safe place to launch a show that was clearly going to help define her career.

Stiles said Turner was an inspiration to her 15-year-old self, and that admiration has only grown as Stiles entered middle age.

"To see that you can have that whole new career, that whole new life, and come back in such a powerful way," Stiles said. "She was somebody that I think a lot of people looked up to, and continue to."

Tina Turner sold more than 150 million records worldwide, won 12 Grammys, and she was voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: first with Ike in 1991, and then as a solo artist in 2021. Her life became the basis for a film, a Broadway musical and an HBO documentary in 2021 that she called her public farewell.

-- With files from The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2023.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

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