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Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 16:26 GMT
Ted Turner: Maverick mogul
Ted Turner: Still his own man

Ted Turner - the man who has not only seen the movie Citizen Kane more than 100 times, but now owns it - has always thought big and talked big.

Launching Cable News Network (CNN), he made a tub-thumping speech to staff which ended: "See, we're gonna take the news and put it on the satellite and beam it down to Russia.

"And we're gonna bring world peace and we're all gonna get rich in the process! Thank you very much!"

Whatever the final judgment on CNN, it can certainly be said that, by pioneering 24-hour rolling news coverage for a worldwide television audience, it revolutionised broadcasting.

Richard Edward Turner III was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1938. His father, Ed, had made his own fortune from a successful billboard company.

Ted Turner worshipped his father, though he had a harsh upringing and was regularly beaten.

At the age of six, after his father joined the navy, Ted was sent to a military school far from the family home.

Ted Turner and Gerald Levin
Ted Turner and former Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin

During vacations, the beatings would continue and Ted was even charged rent for his room.

As a student at Brown University, Turner originally studied classics.

He switched to economics - though without graduating - after his father wrote to him, saying: "I think you are rapidly becoming a jackass, and the sooner you get out of that filthy atmosphere, the better it will suit me."

But everything changed in 1963 with his father's suicide.

Rapid growth

Young, good-looking and rich, Ted Turner emerged from beneath his father's shadow to take over the family business but struggled with his own low self-esteem.

Like his father, he fought, drank heavily and womanised.

In 1970, with the billboard business going from strength to strength, Turner made his first move into the media industry, buying a radio station in Atlanta, Georgia.

Within a decade, the station had become the foundation of the Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) and its boss was one of the United States' biggest media moguls.

CNN, distributed to cable stations across the States by satellite, initially struggled. It first came to national prominence when it covered the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986.

The CNN logo
Turner made CNN a world player

The network finally came of age during the 1990 - 1991 Gulf War. The company - which had banned the word "foreigner" - spent vast amounts of money on technical resources such as satellite feeds, giving it a truly global reach.

It also made much of its ability to attract the most exalted interviewees: who will ever forget the dramatic two-way with a gasmask-wearing Benjamin Netanyahu?

Besides this, Turner had forged himself a second career, as a world-class yachtsman, winning - and successfully defending - the America's Cup.

But, behind the scenes, Turner was a man obsessed - with his father, with success and with conquering his fear of death:

"Because if you can get yourself where you're not afraid of dying, then you can move forward a lot faster."


Sometimes, though, even Ted Turner misjudges the risks.

His $1.5bn acquisition of the MGM film studios ended in disaster - wags at the time said that he would only have made money if an oil-field had been discovered on the company's film lot.

In 1986, TBS was bailed-out by Time Warner (which eventually took control of the whole company a decade later) effectively ending Turner's hopes of capturing a US television network.

Ted Turner and Jane Fonda
Turner and his third wife, Jane Fonda

More recently, Ted Turner has reinvented himself as a major philanthropist, donating $1bn to the United Nations to clear landmines, house refugees and educate the world's poorest children.

Ted Turner is a mass of contradictions.

He once said "news is evil" then founded CNN. He is a blue-blooded US patriot who has often hunted game with Fidel Castro and an avowed right-winger, he married the distinctly liberal film star, Jane Fonda - the marriage, his third, ended in 2001 after a decade.

Today, the man who never thought he would see 50, is without a wife or an official role.

Still, with his many billions, 10,000 head of buffalo and 1.3 million acres of land - he is America's largest private landowner - Ted Turner is sure to be able to find something to amuse him.

See also:

29 Jan 03 | Business
11 Jan 01 | Europe
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