Australians are mourning the death of rock legend Tina Turner, who graced the country’s screens, exhilarated people with her music and cemented herself as the face of rugby league for a generation.
Turner, who died in Switzerland at the age of 83 after a long illness, was best known in Australia for her wildly popular hits, including Nutbush City Limits, River Deep – Mountain High and The Best.
But for many, she was synonymous with Australian rugby league, appearing in TV commercials for the sport and at grand finals.
Turner was first introduced to rugby league with the 1989 campaign “What You Get Is What You See” in a marriage designed to reignite her career and give the sport a marketing hit.
There was immediate blowback, with questions from coaches and critics about why the game had coughed up cash for an American grandmother to be the face of the game.
It was arguably the greatest marketing decision Australian rugby league ever made.
Turner’s next hit was her biggest.
The league’s “Simply the Best” campaign took hold in 1990 and left administrators battling to find a marketing strategy that went close to it over the next three decades.
Former Australian Rugby League boss John Quayle recalled how his team managed to buy the rights to The Best for five years, securing it as the sport’s long-held anthem and as the theme for Turner’s famed advertisements.
“She came to the grand final in ’93 and then we sponsored one of her national tours, which was wonderful,” Mr Quayle told Seven’s Sunrise program on Thursday.
“She was just such a wonderful lady, she related so well with the players, she made them feel so good about it every time (she would) walk onto a set.”
Rugby league commercials featuring The Best were intended to bolster the number of women watching the sport, Mr Quayle added.
They were a resounding success, dramatically increasing female audiences and enrapturing Australians.
“That theme increased the coverage from women across the game at that time by about 60 per cent even though we went to enemy territory … in Victoria and South Australia where people said, ‘We don’t like your game’ … (but) gee, we love that commercial’,” Mr Quayle said.
Jimmy Barnes, who recorded a duet with Turner for the Simply the Best campaign, said it was an honour to work with someone as “talented, strong and giving” as the US star.
“It was certainly a highlight of my career to have sung and shared the stage with such a wonderful human being,” he said in a social media post.
ASM Global chief executive Harvey Lister hosted the rock legend during the Brisbane stretch of a tour in the 1970s and recalled how the truck hauling all their equipment didn’t show up at Festival Hall.
The truck was impounded, meaning showrunners had no idea whether the show could go on. The disruption led Turner to improvise her wardrobe for the performance.
“She was wearing a pair of denim shorts and she knew that the other three girls on the road … would have had shorts in their personal luggage,” Mr Lister told ABC radio.
“We took them down to the uniform room at the hotel, who went and bought a bag of sequins and they sewed sequins on the four girls’ shorts, so that at least they had something to go on stage with.”
Turner also starred in the Australian George Miller-directed film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome alongside Mel Gibson in 1985.
Australian music producer Roger Davies was Turner’s manager from the 1980s through to 2010.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he was sad to hear about Turner’s passing, describing her as a legend who overcame domestic violence and trauma to achieve global success.
She provided a “soundtrack to our lives”, Mr Albanese told Sydney radio station WSFM.
“Here in Australia, ‘Simply the Best’ was such a soundtrack for those who loved rugby league as well,” he said.