Around the world Tina Turner, who died Wednesday at 83, was known for her music, her powerful stage presence, and her barrier-smashing career. But in the Swiss town where she lived for nearly three decades, she was known for living a low-key life — doing her own shopping, standing in line at the post office, and exercising outdoors.
In front of the house where the rock star lived with her husband, Erwin Bach, and where Wednesday night neighbors gathered to light candles and tell stories, a polished bronze sign asks (in English and in German) that visitors not ring the doorbell before noon.
After a lifetime in the public eye, Turner moved to the sleepy town of Küsnacht, Switzerland, with Bach, a German music executive whom she started dating in 1980s. In 1995, Bach got a job running the Swiss offices of EMI Music in Zurich, and the two moved to the Alpine country. They married in 2013, the year she acquired Swiss citizenship and gave up her American passport.
Turner and Bach lived in a classic white peak-roofed mansion on the shore of Lake Zurich.
In a 1997 interview with Larry King, Turner explained why she left the United States.
“I left America because my success was in another country and my boyfriend was in another country,” she said. Asked about her success in the United States as compared with Europe, she said: “Not as big as Madonna. I’m as big as Madonna in Europe; I’m as big as, in some places, the Rolling Stones.”
But she didn’t lord her fame over anyone, said Severin Silvestri, 30, manager at Rico’s, a high-end restaurant just up the road from her house. “She was a cheerful, very open, and kindhearted person,” he said. Years ago, when she was in better health, Turner and Bach would eat at the Michelin-starred eatery from time to time. Silvestri, who once waited on Turner, said she did not put on airs. “She was completely down to earth,” he said.
In addition to her international music career, her Swiss home celebrated her for the public Christmas light display (illuminated golden wreaths) she donated to the town on the occasion of her 75th birthday in 2014 and for the rescue boat “Tina” that she christened that year.
Neighbors said they were aware of Turner’s fame, but did not bother her when they saw her in public, which was less and less in the past years as she struggled with her health.
“She seems to have lived a relatively normal life and seems to have enjoyed it,” said Oliver Moritz, 46, manager of a hotel several hundred yards up the lakeshore, noting that she was the kind of person you would run into while shopping.
Roland Roller Frei, 57, a Swiss music producer who worked with her on and off for more than a decade, said that it was this normal life, unbothered by fans, that seemed to draw Turner to a life in Switzerland.
“I think it was important for her to find a place where she would be left alone,” he said, adding: “I think she appreciated the fact that she was not being pestered by fans every day, but that she could enjoy her retirement in peace.”
The town’s mayor, Markus Ernst, 50, said that some residents had become so used to her presence that they forgot what a big deal she was outside Küsnacht. “We became fully aware of her global star quality in 2013, when she got married and when camera teams descended on us from around the world,” he said.
Ernst, who says he listened to Turner’s music as a teenager on cassette tapes and records, said meeting her in real life was very special. “She had an incredible aura, was very approachable and interacted with you in such a positive way,” he said.
And she also gave back to her community. “She was a great ambassador for our community, and she did it totally voluntarily,” said Ernst, referring to Turner’s habit of praising Switzerland and Küsnacht to the news media.
“With Tina Turner’s death, the world has lost an icon,” Switzerland’s president, Alain Berset, posted on Twitter on Wednesday, adding: “My thoughts are with the relatives of this impressive woman who has found a second home in Switzerland.”
According to Turner, one aspect of Swiss life was especially important. “I must say the priority is fresh air — it’s clean, and I feel like I’m really breathing in fresh air,” she told a Swiss journalist in 2014. She also noted that she felt safe enough in the country to go out in public without security.
Asked during that interview whether there was anything about life in Switzerland that she did not like, she responded: “There is absolutely nothing that I don’t like, because I found out that I liked everything before I gave away the passport,” she said, referring to her American citizenship.
To obtain Swiss citizenship, Turner had to show her ability to speak German, something that she admitted took time and effort to learn.
At a vigil at Turner’s house Wednesday night, neighbors shared ordinary stories about the extraordinary woman next door. One man relayed how Turner offered coffee to people working in her house and even poured it herself. Another talked about running into her at the post office.
“It’s sad that we lost her,” one resident told a local news media outlet. After a pause, he added: “Not just Küsnacht, but the whole world.”