SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
August 21, 1978
Everybody wants to be a star, says Ted Turner, and as television tycoon, team owner and super sailor, he has become bigger, and a bit louder, than life
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 21, 1978

Going Real Strawwng

Everybody wants to be a star, says Ted Turner, and as television tycoon, team owner and super sailor, he has become bigger, and a bit louder, than life

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

"Hey, Turner," the woman shouted, her words muffled by the chaw, "you better getsh the Bravesh off their buttsh."

In the 24 hours surrounding this particular encounter last fall, Turner had been in the process of doing just that. Besides interviewing applicants for the Braves' managerial job and figuring out how long he could sit in his office without Bowie Kuhn finding out and disciplining the then-suspended owner, Turner also was in the midst of:

Adding several new stations, cities, states and emerging nations to his massive satellite cable-TV network; making plans and assembling crews for competing on the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit; nearly suffering a heart attack every time his bargain-basement basketball Hawks got close to winning a game; attempting to get his 17-year-old daughter, Laura Lee, into a high school she would not get bounced out of for displaying the legendary Turner rebelliousness (Laura Lee was 0 for 1 in schools); eating, sleeping, playing backgammon; driving his Toyota through rainstorms while avoiding the sudden return splat of his own saliva into his face as he hawked out the window; bargaining with a journalist over the sale of a horrible, open-mouthed, mounted rattlesnake head, a sicker, more disgusting thing the journalist was positive did not exist. "I got it for 50. It's yours for a hundred," Turner said. "You think that's sick. Wait till you see my winged bat."

In a way his frenetic, jack-and-master-of-all-trades style is precisely what makes Ted Turner such an engrossing character. It is also what makes him so hard to delineate. On the one hand there is the cold, hard, ruthless, money-grubbing, commercial, conglomerate Turner, who upon buying the Braves, unceremoniously fired the team's popular traveling secretary—a dwarf, yet—and who says, "Life is a game, but the way to keep score is money." On the other hand, there is Turner, the litterateur, the romanticist, the boy on the burning deck, the man who in a speech after winning the Sydney-Hobart boat race could paraphrase from The Niggerof the 'Narcissus' and Youth:

"Ah! The good old time—the good old time. Youth and the sea. Glamour and the sea! The good, strong sea, the salt, bitter sea, that could whisper to you and roar at you and knock your breath out of you.... The crew of the American Eagle drifted out of sight. I never saw them again. The sea took some, the steamers took others, the graveyards of the earth will account for the rest.... So be it! Let the earth and sea each have its own."

Now, of course, earth and sea have Ted Turner, and the Braves and the Hawks have him, and the talk shows have him and, for better or worse, we all have him. O.K., what do we make of him?

Among his incongruous pursuits, the majority owner of Turner Communications Corporation has attended a state dinner at the White House and ridden in an ostrich race at Atlanta Stadium. "One lap?" the competitor in him screamed. "How the hell can you determine the fastest ostrich in one lap?" He has read the Bible twice from cover to cover and has permitted the screening of pornographic movies for his baseball players and their wives on a bus ride from Plains, Ga. to Atlanta. He has nudged a baseball around the base paths with his nose, as a gimmick, and sailed a boat in a triangle to show the yachting Establishment that a guy like Ted Turner could win the America's Cup.

At one time, most of Turner's businesses have been, as he puts it, "at death's door." In 1977 his last-place baseball team lost a million five. Way back, there were much darker days. His teen-aged sister slowly died of a terrible disease. His father committed suicide. His second marriage is in constant turmoil because of his much-publicized flirtations. His eldest daughter from his first marriage is on the threshold, he says, of "delinquentville." Yet Ted Turner seems not to have had a depressing day in his life. "I'm super." he bellows in reply to the standard greeting, morning, noon and night. "I'm always super." Pat Williams, the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, says, " Ted Turner is every kid who ever got loose in Disney World."

Peter Dames, the president of the outdoor advertising branch of TCC, says of Turner, "Talking to him is like talking to a radio." Hubie Brown, the Hawks' coach, says, "Sit him down and he is one of the alltime great listeners."

Turner says that a magazine columnist once called him " 'the most multifaceted individual he had ever met.' Multifaceted. And this guy had been all over. He had interviewed athletes, lawyers, doctors, musicians, politicians. He said he was this magazine's top guy. Their top guy. Multifaceted. Damn!"

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9