By midafternoon, his reservoir of nervous energy is nearly gone. They are here now; he can sense them inside this room. He muffles a yawn, rubs his eyes and calls for coffee, then rises to talk and to walk quick circles. Silence and stillness are the enemy. They must be driven far away.
He passes shelf upon shelf gleaming with trophies from his triumphs as a sailor, past plaques and shellacked magazine covers from his victories in business, past walls covered with paintings of armies slaughtering armies upon land and navies destroying navies at sea, past his five swords and three rifles from the Civil War, past the little doll of his hero, Lord Nelson, its right sleeve hanging limp. His eyes darting about the walls of the office he calls the War Room, darting from one reminder to the next of men killing, men dying, men conquering.
Explaining, as he moves, his plan to bring the world peace.
Well shy of the 74 consecutive circles his executive vice-president once counted, Ted Turner stops.
June 22, 1986
"I'm the only man on the planet ever to fly on Cuba's Air Force One with their president and on America's Air Force One with our president," he says, pulling out a photo album of his 1982 hunting trip with Fidel Castro in Cuba. "Look, this shows what I'm talking about. People are not all that different—all this killing and arms race is for nothing."
He points to photographs of Castro. "Here's the great Commie dictator we're so worried about—having a hot toddy! Ha! And look, here's the great Commie dictator in his bare feet!"
He points to one of Turner and Castro in camouflage outfits. "Here's us hunting. Twenty-two attempts on his life by the CIA and I'm sitting next to him with a loaded rifle! Can you believe that? . . . I could've shot him in the back!"
He points to one of a blonde about to burst from her bathing suit. "That's the little girl I took to Cuba with me."
And he points to one of Castro and him kneeling before a large gathering of ducks. All 153 are dead.
"He gave me the award for shooting more than anyone he'd ever hunted with," Turner says. "Good pictures? They're great pictures!" He snaps the album shut and begins to circle again, explaining his plan to bring the world peace.
He walks past the speakerphone on his desk that lets him pace while he converses long distance, past the freshly pressed clothes and the hanging bag on the coatrack that assure him that at any moment he can fly away. Past the stationary bike he pedals, the coffee table he climbs upon, the balls and knickknacks he juggles, the swords he swings over his head—all during meetings in his office.
"Come here," he says. "Look at this."
On the outer windowsill of the War Room, sitting in its nest, is a dove.
Every now and then, God makes a perfect metaphor for men to see. Far more often, he makes men who cannot see it.
Ted Turner rubs his eyes and circles his office again, explaining his plan to bring the world peace.
His eyes fall upon a porcelain figurine of Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio. He winds it up, leans his chin upon his hands and stares at it with a dreamy look. It, too, goes in circles and makes noise. "It's one of my favorite things," he says. "Yeah, I want to be like Jiminy Cricket for America, its conscience. Remember how Jiminy always told Pinocchio to go to school, to do the wise things?"
Jiminy stops. Ted continues. Someday, if he stays wound up long enough, his circle will be the earth. He won the world's most prestigious sailing race. He bought NBA and major league baseball franchises. He launched the first cable TV super station (WTBS) and the first 24-hour TV news network (CNN).
Now he is approaching 50 and the pace grows more urgent. In 1985 Turner forced CBS to spend nearly a billion dollars buying back its stock to prevent him from taking over; he arranged to buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $1.5 billion; he purchased the Omni—a hotel-shopping mall-office complex in Atlanta—for $64 million; he expanded CNN into markets in 10 more countries, bringing the total to 27; he purchased his sixth estate, in Florida, for $6 million, and moved his family there; and he spent $35 million to stage next month's Goodwill Games in Moscow, the first summer confrontation between U.S. and Soviet noncollegiate athletes in a multisport arena since 1976. He commuted to California closing the MGM deal, to the U.S.S.R. closing the Goodwill deal and to Europe cultivating ties with world leaders, leaving behind satellite dishes for CNN reception with King Juan Carlos of Spain and Prime Minister Bettino Craxi of Italy. At 3 a.m. in Moscow he would awaken his executive vice-president, Bob Wussler, with a rap on his hotel door, to talk, rather than lie awake, silent and alone.
Two months ago, during one seven-day frenzy, he appeared on three nationally televised programs—60 Minutes, Larry King Live and The Tonight Show, caught eight flights; gave speeches to the Political Union at Yale, the Africa Travel Council in Atlanta, the International Radio and Television Society in New York and the George Washington University student body in Washington; had breakfast meetings with the president of the Motion Picture Association of America in New York and the president of Volkswagen in Detroit, lunch meetings with executives from the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, MGM officials in Culver City, Calif., and members of the investment firm of Drexel Burnham Lambert in Beverly Hills; had two dinner meetings with MGM staff; attended a Hawks playoff game, his NBA team, in Detroit; attended a business party; awoke at 4:15 a.m. to speak on a live satellite feed to Cannes, France. . . .
"Two billion dollars I owe!" he declares. "Actually, it's closer to one point nine, but I like the sound of two billion better."
"Oh, my," says his mother from the backseat of the car. "How much did he say?"
"Two billion," hollers Ted. "No individual in history has ever owed more."
"Oh, Ted, I get a headache thinking about it," she says. "Well, you're honest, you'll try to pay it all back, I know."
"That's a million dollars a day in interest, Mother. Here, look at my picture in today's newspaper. Do I look worried?"
"Oh, Ted, you're so full of the dickens. I just wish you had time to come to my house for dinner. It seems like the only time I talk to you anymore is in a car, driving from one place to another."
"Sorry, Mother, I've got to go."
If Ted Turner sneezed in Atlanta and a goat farmer in the Caucasus mountains didn't hear it—did Ted Turner exist? For five straight weeks in March he coughed and sniffled his way around the world fighting the flu. He finally beat it and rejoiced, then wobbled out of his office in April, wracked with it again. The first stages of the mighty struggle had begun. You must die one day, Ted, life was whispering. No, not me—can't you see I've scheduled a breakfast meeting in London and an afternoon speech in L.A.?
Was there a theme to all this motion and sound? Or was this just a man with a runaway need to cast himself electromagnetically across the heavens, to spread surrogate fingers of wire and cable across the earth—a 20th-century Narcissus who has found that a pair of orbiting communications satellites beats hell out of still water for reflection of the self?
"Sure, there's a plan," says Terry McGuirk, Turner's vice-president of special projects. "The plan is to become the largest and most powerful communication and entertainment company in the world. Ted sees TV as a major tool in the solution of the world's problems."
"In 1980," recalls former business associate Irwin Mazo, "he told me, with utter vehemence, that he had four great ambitions. He said, 'One, I'm going to make Channel 17 [WTBS] the fourth national network. Two, I'm going into the production business—they're producing trash on movies and TV. Three, I am going to be this country's wealthiest man. And four, I am going to be president of the United States.' I said, 'How can you be president? You have no political base.' He said, 'I've got the boob tube. If this country falls flat on its face, I can go on the boob tube. That's power.' "
"President? This may be his preliminary campaign to become czar of the world," says Jim Roddy, an old sailing partner and ex-Turner executive. "All this is a progression—Ted just keeps moving to larger arenas. In the old days he wasn't satisfied unless everyone in a room listened to him. Then it became everyone in town, then the state, then the country, now the world."
In his private airplane, Turner props his stockinged feet on the edge of his wife's seat. Even his physical presence is rife with contradiction: the boyish face crowned by gray hair; the features of Clark Gable with the voice of a distressed duck. He begins to speak, his volume reducing the din of the engine to a mutter. "I've already met or exceeded all goals for personal wealth and accomplishment," he declares. "Nothing ever came easy—my first eight years of sailing I didn't even win my club championship. But I just kept working and working and working—that's the secret of my success. Now I'm like a runner who has kept running and running and one day finds he has run the Boston Marathon. I don't need to be the best anymore, I'm just part of a team. I'm just widening, broadening.
"I would only run for president if it was the only way I could get this country to turn around. My main concern is to be a benefit to the world, to build up a global communications system that helps humanity come together, to control population, to stop the arms race, to preserve our environment. I'm a deep thinker. I've traveled all over. I have more access to information than anyone on the planet. When you realize your family, your friends, your society, your planet is in a dire state of emergency, that has to change anyone with a responsible world outlook. People have got to be better informed of where we're heading. It would take only a billion dollars a year to furnish birth-control devices to all the women in the world who would use them. That would cut the world population growth in half. One billion—that's about the cost of one Trident submarine, one three-hundredth of our current military budget. We're steaming at 30 knots on the Titanic trying to break the transatlantic record on an iceberg-strewn sea. We're out of control, we've got to get in control!"
He sticks out his dimpled chin, as if to say, "How'd you like that?" Then he cries, "Hey, Janie, did you see this story in today's paper—our stock closed higher yesterday than it has in a year! Isn't that great, Janie? And look at that cute little picture of me!"
At halftime of a Hawks game, the fate of the planet is being solved.
"Bob," Turner cries to Wussler in the Hawks' boardroom. "I asked Georgi Arbatov [director of the U.S.S.R.'s Institute of USA and Canada Studies] at breakfast yesterday, if we eliminated all our nuclear weapons, would they? And he said yes! I asked him, if we eliminated all of our conventional forces in Europe, would they? And he said yes!"
End of arms race.
"I've given up on telling him anything is more complicated than he thinks it is," Wussler says later. "He's just going to bulldoze right over you if you do, so why make yourself look foolish?"
Was true peace something an obsessed man could chase down? Or could it only come when men learned to surrender and stop chasing? If information was the secret, why were the most informed countries leading the race to ruin? These things Turner took no time to mull.
But then, perhaps few complex problems would ever find solutions if there were not men with his naiveté and ambition. At a government gathering in Moscow to which the Soviets invited Turner last year, he put his index finger to the skull of a top Soviet official. "Now, stick your finger up to my head," he told the man. "There. Now, can we talk to each other like this?"
"No," said the official.
"Of course not," said Turner. "We've got to stop pointing these at each other. You love your children, right? So do we." Turner hugged him—the man smiled and returned the embrace.
"They loved him there," says Charles Bonan, vice-president for Turner Program Services in Europe. "He transcended propaganda and rhetoric. They couldn't react to him in any way but with their emotions. As I watched him I said to myself, here is a man who could truly make a difference."
"To some he looks too idealistic, like Don Quixote," says Henrikas Yushkiavitshus of the Soviet Union national TV and radio agency, who is working with Turner on the Games, "but it is Don Quixotes who are changing world, not people who live on stereotype thinking."
He has spent large sums filming and airing programs on the dangers of nuclear war and abuse of the planet, but often they have been lost between Leave It to Beaver reruns and Saturday afternoon wrestling. The Goodwill Games are Turner's bold stroke, his bid to convince the world that the man who once rode ostriches around the Braves' infield has become a free-lance diplomat of major gravity. "The biggest joint effort between the Soviet Union and the U.S. since World War II," Turner modestly claims. "Ted's bid for the Nobel Peace Prize" is the word in the CNN newsroom. "Look at these pictures of my Commie pals," he told friends when he got home.
A few of his Commie pals sidled up to his sidemen in Moscow, spoke Turner's name and rotated their index fingers about their ears—the international sign for crazy. One minute in Moscow he was the run-amok capitalist cracking loud jokes about KGB agents. The next he was the conscientious socialist insisting that he and they should get in line and spend half the day in—2° weather like everyone else waiting to see Lenin's body, instead of pulling rank and butting in at the front. "They'd ask, 'Is this man socialist or capitalist, Republican or Democrat, is he this or that?' " recalls Bob Neal, who will anchor the TV commentary of the Goodwill Games. "I told them, 'He's this and that.' "
He is a friend of Jesse Jackson—and a friend of Jesse Helms. He rants at the erosion of family values by network TV—and once went three consecutive Christmases chasing sailing trophies around the world while his wife stayed home with the five children. He decries violence—and once said network presidents should be lined up and shot for treason. He ripped the media for criticizing America's role in the Vietnam War—and had Castro tape a promo for CNN.
"I didn't know as much then as I know now," he would say of the contradictions, sounding a little surprised that anyone would expect a thread between the actions and words of a man. "Moralizing with Ted," says McGuirk, "is like moralizing with a wolf for eating a lamb." Was any idea or cause dear to him for its own intrinsic value? Or were ideas and causes all interchangeable tools he seized and consumed in his hunger to conquer some larger circle?
"I never really enjoyed sailing that much," Turner told Wussler after he had quit the sport, after he had spent nearly a million dollars achieving his goal of becoming the world's top yachtsman. "I don't think he loves anything," says Roddy. "His hands were on the wheel of the boat but his mind and eye were on the finish line and the headline that said, TURNER WINS."
Because he kept winning, many Americans saw him as a hero. He appeared in magazine and TV ads, on talk shows and at banquets, joining Peter Ueberroth and Lee Iacocca in the country's newest pantheon—Superstar Businessmen. Miss America of 1983 said the person she most wanted to meet was Ted Turner.
"The more confusion there is in the world, the more people are looking for someone confident enough to think he can master it," says Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. "Most people feel powerless today. Ted has balls, he has the certainty and competence."
"The feeling he gives people is, 'Hitch yourself to my shirttails and we'll go to the moon,' " says Jim Trahey, Turner's vice-president of sports sales. "I'll never forget the day he and I were running down the street in Charlotte, North Carolina, making a quick visit to the local cable company. A car slammed on its brakes, hit him and flipped him onto the hood. In one motion he bounced off and kept running, yelling, 'C'mon, Trahey, let's go!' The man's got a horsehoe up his rear end and it ain't coming out."
Unaware of the horseshoe, Wall Street looked skeptically at the $1.4 billion loan he took to purchase MGM, pointing out that the $753 million payment due in 1988 must come from a company whose current revenues are closer to $352 million a year. With contracts running out on the syndicated programs he used to fill airtime on his superstation, Turner couldn't resist the chance to purchase MGM's 3,650-film library. On June 6 he announced the sale of some of MGM's assets for $490 million to give him some breathing room. But like every other major financial venture in his career, the MGM deal meant throwing every chip he had onto the table.
"I think he's in terrible financial difficulty," says Anthony Hoffman, an investment banker and cable-TV analyst. "Unless he has some plan no one knows about, so creative no one ever thought of it, he can't do it. The whole empire could come crashing down around his ears."
"If a major recession caught me in a high-debt cycle, I'd be in trouble," Turner admits. "But so would Chase Manhattan and a lot of others. I think my wife would stick with me. My dog would still love me. If I could afford birdseed, my cockatoo would stick around." He pauses. "A lot of friends wouldn't."
Ja-nie! C'mon, the game's starting! Let's go?" Turner pounds on the ladies' room door in the Omni International Hotel lobby. "Aw, she'll just have to catch up."
Motion, thank God, motion. Standing at a banquet or cocktail party, his eyes and weight shift, his fingers fidget, his overanxiousness to impress makes him blurt, "Wonderful . . . terrific . . . great to hear," before he has heard at all. But when he's in motion all is instinct and spontaneity. He strides past the hotel piano player, blows a kiss to her and wiggles his rear end to the music, thrusts open the door, scoops up an empty beer can, dunks it in a garbage can, enters the next-door basketball arena clapping his hands, slaps five with an usher, kibitzes with the courtsiders, cha-cha-chas to the P.A. music toward his seat—and bursts out of it the first basket the Hawks score.
The Hawks and the Braves are now two of Ted Turner's 20 businesses—not life and death anymore, but still the best places to strut and sweat and shout in public. Both teams remain money-losers, although the Braves' value as a program filler and advertising revenue source on WTBS compensates for the five or six million dollars they swallow a year.
Greater, perhaps, is their worth as time fillers for Turner himself. He's not a man to sit at home with the family, and the connection with the Hawks and Braves guarantees that a third of his nights each year need not be silent or still. Go to a ball game without owning the flesh? He grew up clumsy at athletics, and loves neither game enough for that. "What do you need to know about baseball?" he asked just before buying the Braves. "Both sides have 10 guys."
He still hurdles the fence and jogs through the dugout into the clubhouse after Braves games, still dashes into the locker room at the buzzer to pump hands with his Hawks. But the expansion of his empire, the difficulty of changing third basemen from the Caucasus mountains or grabbing the Hawks' P.A. microphone from Red Square, has altered his relationship with his teams. Virtually all decisions have been turned over to his general managers and coaches. No longer is it so important that the players be his buddies, no more does he spend hours in their company spitting out streams of tobacco juice and sucking in seas of self-esteem. Last year he quit smoking cigars and chewing tobacco on an agreement with the head of Greenpeace, as befitting a man out to unpollute the world.
The Braves still have one of baseball's highest payrolls, but that is a vestige of earlier years when Turner seemed compelled to lavish long-term, no-cut contracts, many on nominal players he wanted to befriend. The Hawks have pared their payroll but have become economically insignificant, inasmuch as Turner's contract with the NBA allows him to pick and choose which games to air on his cable. Two years ago he sold the Hawks' TV rights to a local UHF station.
As a businessman in America, Turner built his empire on the knowledge that lambs were grazing everywhere if a man could bear to be a wolf. At 24, upon discovering that his father, just before dying, had sold off the billboard company Ted thought he would inherit, Ted bared his teeth and sprang. He hired away the company's employees, threatened to both go to court and place new billboards directly in front of the ones that were no longer his. The new owners, aghast, undid the deal, and Turner parlayed the billboard company into an $800 million fortune.
Survival of the fittest was his war cry, great generals and military conquests his fascination. "If you aren't prepared, he'll smell blood and go for the kill," says Bucky Woy, agent for Braves first baseman Bob Horner. "He'll bury you."
His three sons learned the rules the hard way. "If he caught you crying, that was the worst thing you could do," says 23-year-old Teddy, his eldest son, who is a cameraman in the CNN Moscow bureau. "You never expressed your feelings at our house. I was a fairly disturbed child. Dad didn't have time for me. It's only in the last two years we've started to have a real relationship."
"I wanted it to be harder for my sons than other kids," he says.
After winning the 1979 Fastnet Race off the coast of England, during a vicious storm that left 15 sailors dead, Turner told the British press, "It's no use crying. The king is dead. Long live the king. It had to happen sooner or later. You ought to be thankful there are storms like that, or you'd all be speaking Spanish," he added, alluding to the terrible weather the Spanish Armada encountered.
Weakness made the wolf nervous, and in his nervousness he blurted harsh things. " 'What the hell happened to you?' was the first thing he said to one guy with a war injury," recalls Roddy.
Weakness whispered of vulnerability. Vulnerability smelled of death. "That's his biggest fear," says Wussler. "If I have to make a quick turn in a car, he'll get all tensed up and yell, 'You're gonna kill me, we're not gonna make it!' He's always talking about death, about the possibility of some terrorist walking in and pumping bullets into him."
And yet. . . . "Right now Mr. Ted is doing the same thing his daddy did," says his houseman, Jimmy Brown, who has served the Turners for four decades. "He's working himself to death."
"I've begged him to take some time off," says his wife. "I've had a doctor who specializes in stress talk to him, but nothing helps."
To be the wolf meant to be at ease with silence and stillness, with the inevitability of spending life and meeting death alone. Was he truly the wolf, or did he yearn to be the lamb?
Often he called employees in to yell at them and ended up babbling on and on, his anger degenerating into self-blame. On separate occasions, when he summoned former Braves managers Joe Torre and Bobby Cox to his office to fire them, he fidgeted so long they both had to make it easy for him.
At age 47—in front of reporters, businessmen, college students and tables full of people for whom he frequently ordered dinner without asking them what they wanted—thus spoke Ted Turner: "Might does not make right. Right makes might. I'd rather be the one to get blown up than the one that blows up. I happen to love everybody. Like Jesus. I've made my peace with the Soviets. They're not my enemies. We're all brothers. Nobody is going to drop a bomb on his brother except some dumb, mean son of a bitch and those are the ones I don't want anything to do with. I expected Castro to be some horrible person, but he was a great guy. I walked the streets of Moscow and saw mothers with their little children. There weren't KGB agents on every corner. I found their leaders very reasonable. I really wonder if there are horrible people. Anyone who kills or hates or hurts other people—it's all the environment. Basically people are damn nice—that goes for Catholics and Jews and that goes for Communists. Even prisoners are nice guys. A convicted murderer presented me with a plaque for speaking at a prison. I have a 2,000-pound bison that killed a horse, and I feed him out of my hand. If you can get along with wild animals by being nice to them, you can get along with human beings."
"But, Ted," says his wife, "I remember when we first met, you were saying we should have a stronger military."
He dismisses her with a wave of his hand and continues.
"Capitalism didn't intend for the losers to starve. If the rich were smart they'd eliminate poverty and make everyone happy—then they'd have more markets to sell to. But when a few wealthy people are pigging out in a world surrounded by poverty, that's a very dangerous situation. . . . I drive a Toyota, and I have since 1974. We're the most wasteful, materialistic country on earth. We bully the smaller countries. We're living higher on the hog than we ever have—maxi-yachts, three cars, not one house anymore, it's two houses. Five percent of the world population is consuming 35 percent of the world's resources . . . and the average American eats 2½ times more meat than he needs, and—"
And last year, the man who owns a home and an island on the South Carolina coast, and a 2,600-acre plantation in Georgetown, S.C., and a 5,000-acre plantation in Jacksonboro, S.C., and a home on 90 acres outside Atlanta and a 600-acre property in Buchanan, Ga., bought and moved his family onto a 5,000-acre plantation near Tallahassee, Fla.
"A change of pace," he said.
"The duck hunting is better here," said his wife.
What about the need to spread the wealth?
"I guess I am acquisitive, but that's my capitalistic background," he says. "Those who make greater contributions deserve greater rewards. Generally, people believe that leaders are entitled to live at a better level."
Part of him needed to make grand acquisitions, to keep figuring his personal worth on napkins for everyone while the waiter served dessert—not for the sake of the purchases or the wealth itself, but as mile markers, proof that he was really going somewhere. If that part had been alone, he'd have just been another American millionaire. But it was the other part of him, rubbing against this need to show strength, that created the crackling cage of friction the world knows as Ted Turner.
Satisfying both hungers at the same time, that of the grand man and of the small, was no easy task, but how Turner tried. To get to his personal island, he drove half an hour to a small airport outside Atlanta, took a small plane to Beaufort, S.C., had a car waiting there for him to drive to a dock, had a skiff waiting there to cross the river and then had a Jeep waiting on the shore to drive to the house on the island. "I asked him, 'Why don't you just have a helicopter take you from Atlanta to your door?' " Wussler says. "He said, 'That would ruin everything.' Then you get to this property he spent millions to buy and the plumbing doesn't work, the electricity is bad, the bedsprings are awful."
And on 90° Florida nights in his newest home, he and his family lie in bed, sweat trickling down their bodies. No one could accuse the owner of this $6 million plantation and five other estates of pigging out. Why, Ted Turner doesn't even permit air-conditioning.
In one room of the house where Turner grew up lived, his father, a hard, self-made millionaire who charged his teenage son rent in the summer, so he would be hard and self-made, too. I am strong, his father's life cried, get out of my way.
In another room lived his sister, a pretty girl two years younger whose screams of pain pierced the walls as she died slowly. I am weak, her life cried, please help me.
His father was a man who could work or drink until 4 a.m., who could beat his son with a coathanger and double the punishment if the boy cried. His sister was the brightest girl in her class until a rare form of lupus ravaged her for years before letting her pass away.
The father tried every doctor and every hospital that could possibly help his daughter. But once he realized her death was inevitable, her weakness unconquerable, he turned his eyes away. That his son might cry, that his daughter might die, these things Ed Turner could not abide.
"The Lord works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform," a man counseled him.
"If that's the type of God He is, I want nothing to do with Him," Ed Turner snarled.
He and Ted's mother divorced. The father sent his only son away to military academy from fifth grade on. "He idolized Teddy," says Dr. Irving Victor, Ed Turner's close friend, "but he was determined to instill toughness in him, to make him a man." The little boy would keep count of how many days until he could come home, and then, when holiday was over and it was time to return, tell his mother he had lost his airplane ticket. "Oh, no, Ted, you can't have, you know how angry your father will be," his mother would cry. And the boy bit his lip and flew away, desperate to change that anger to a smile.
He grew up with two messages filling his ears, the shout of his father and sob of his sister, the howl of the wolf and bleat of the lamb. No words or actions ever showed him that each had its place, that together they made a harmony sung by all of life.
To him it seemed you must choose one or the other, and so the boy made his choice. He entered a dorm room in military grade school, picked a fight with the biggest of his three roommates and beat him up. "Who's the boss in here?" he asked them that night. "You are," they agreed. But a small bathroom joined his room to another, with four more boys, and the next day an urge he didn't understand sent him into their room, too. "O.K.," he announced, "I intend to be the boss in here, too." All four jumped him, three of them holding him down while the other kicked him in the head until he could barely see.
Back home, in a way not so different, the same thing was happening to his father. By the age of 53, the man who scoffed at weakness hadn't the strength to get up and face another day. "He was having a nervous breakdown," his son recalls. "I begged him to stop working, to take some time off, but he wouldn't."
Ed Turner was nervous about the recent expansion of his billboard business, afraid he had stepped in over his head. His son, surprised to see such weakness, argued with him and wondered out loud where all his father's toughness had gone.
On March 5, 1963, Ed Turner ate his breakfast, complimented the cook, asked what was for lunch and then walked upstairs. He placed a .38 pistol to his head and pulled the trigger.
His son was 24. At the funeral, Ted stared at the coffin. Nothing must ever make him so utterly silent, nothing must ever leave him so utterly still.
"I refuse to answer any question about things that happened 23 years ago. It's a waste of time. I don't think about the past, I think about the future. Go on, you got 20 more minutes, next question. Let's talk about the Goodwill Games. I should be working right now, not frigging around with you. I'm sick of stories about me. Part of me wishes no one ever heard of me. I'd have some privacy, I wouldn't be bugged to death by you. No, I don't wish I had more time to reflect. I'm involved in such an intensive series of negotiations and business deals none of my mental powers can be spent reflecting. Do I miss it? No, I don't have time to miss it. Now more than ever it is time to act. . . . It's 10 o'clock. Goodbye. . . . Uh, good luck with your story. Do you need any more time with me? "
If a man dared to permit himself time to reflect, if he surrendered some of his busyness, he could begin to understand the nature of the strife within him. To find that peace would take silence and stillness, aloneness and pain.
After winning the America's Cup in 1977, Ted Turner searched for a shortcut to that peace, for his life had become too tilted to the wolf. Like his father, he, too, pointed his sons toward military school and let weeks go by without ever having them near. He, too, increased the punishment when they cried. He, too, worked ceaselessly, made millions and felt little satisfaction. He, too, awoke each dawn with the same imperative, the same relentless supply of anxiety he must burn.
He, too, talked of suicide.
"I was just ambling through life," he says. It was then, in need of something more meaningful than money and mile markers, that he met men like Castro and Jacques Cousteau. Instinctively, an idea grew inside him, something he could live for that would not require painful change. Ted Turner could build the biggest, most powerful communications corporation on earth, maybe even become the richest man in America, not as an end in itself—but to educate the ignorant and bring together hostile creatures, to end killing and poverty across the planet. That was it! In a single motion he could extend one hand to his father and one to his sister, feed the wolf and stroke the lamb. He could show softness without compromising hardness.
Like all his deals, this one was struck quickly, without quiet attention to all its meaning and details. Thus the wild contradictions piled at his feet like a small mountain of dead ducks. What could the world do but sigh with relief that a spirit so ravenous and restless as this one had gone racing down the road toward light instead of darkness?
And what if one day the man brought world peace to five billion before bringing inner peace to one? What next?
"Well," says Bob Wussler, "then I could see him getting involved in the colonization of space."
The universe! Ted Turner rises from his chair and circles his office, past the trophies and the plaques, past the swords and the rifles.
Past the two nails he has hammered to keep the dove's nest from sliding off the windowsill of the War Room.