Vital Signs

America's Craziest Billionaire

Unless you are just back from a long stay aboard Russia's rapidly disintegrating Mir space station, you have probably heard about Ted Turner's plans to give a billion dollars to the United Nations—as if the world needed absolute proof that Atlanta's Captain Outrageous is more than a few cards short of a full deck. Over the past quarter-century, Turner has built a lowly UHF television station into a global media colossus.

Over the same period, he has built a similarly colossal reputation as America's most outspoken and, yes, craziest billionaire.

In the 1970's, the captain was amusing-crazy. As a sailor, he won the America's Cup. As owner of the Braves, he put people in the seats with outrageous stunts, like the time he pushed a ball along the base path with his nose. Turner once greeted a high-profile free agent with a new number, 17, and a new last name, Channel. (The free advertising for Channel 17 did not last long.)

In the 80's, Turner was still nuts, but with a harder, meaner edge. When he was not launching CNN or dreaming up the Goodwill Games, he busied himself dismissing Christianity as a religion "for losers" and blaming the frosty relations between Castro's Cuba and the United States on his own government rather than his dictator buddy's lawlessness and brutality.

In 1987, I saw Turner give a rambling oration—clearly unscripted and...

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