A mercurial maverick, Ted Turner is the father of 24-hour news, founding CNN in 1980 as the first all-news cable channel. Naysayers dubbed the channel the “Chicken Noodle Network” until CNN hit its stride during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, with Time magazine naming Turner “Man of the Year.”
CNN became the engine of Turner Broadcasting System, the cable empire that Turner built from the billboard company in Atlanta he inherited, at age 24, after his father’s suicide in 1963. Turner pioneered the use of satellite technology to broadcast WTBS-TV nationwide, establishing the Atlanta station as the nation’s first “superstation.” He bought the Braves professional baseball team in 1976 to provide programming for the station. A daring risk-taker, he spent $1.5 billion to purchase MGM in 1985, using the movie library to launch TNT a few years later. His colorization of some of the black-and-white MGM movies stirred controversy among film aficionados. Several years later, the purchase of the Hanna-Barbera library begot the Cartoon Network.
In 1996, he sold his cable empire to Time Warner Inc., becoming the largest shareholder of the world’s biggest entertainment conglomerate. But his fortune withered after the ill-fated 2001 merger of AOL and Time Warner, a marriage of new media and old media that flamed out when Internet values plummeted. Turner’s stock, worth about $7 billion at the time of the merger, fizzled in value, forcing him to delay payment on a record $1 billion contribution to the United Nations. His personal life was also in tatters, as his marriage to actress Jane Fonda came to an end after almost a decade.
Known in Atlanta as “the Mouth of the South,” Turner is legendary for his volatile outbursts and outrageous remarks. Amid the early elation of the Time Warner-AOL deal, Turner declared the combination better than sex. He once likened News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch to Adolf Hitler, accusing him of using his media outlets such as CNN rival Fox News Channel to further his conservative political agenda. In a 2008 interview by Charlie Rose on PBS, Turner said that doing nothing about global warming would be catastrophic. “None of the crops will grow. Most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals,” he said.
Since stepping down as vice chairman of Time Warner in 2006, Turner has devoted himself to philanthropy, land acquisitions and a growing restaurant chain called Ted's Montana Grill that serves bison meat. An environmentalist and preservationist, Turner is the biggest individual landowner in the U.S. and has the largest bison herd.
An avid sportsman, he won the America’s Cup in 1977 as skipper of Courageous.