TIME's 25 Most Influential Americans

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Robert Thurman, dharma warrior
He is the Billy Graham of American Buddhism. Or perhaps the St. Paul, a latter-day, larger-than-life scholar-activist destined to convey the dharma, the precious teachings of Siddhartha, from Asia to America. At the very least, he is the Ziegfeld of the U.S. branch of Tibetan Buddhism and its consanguine, quixotic movement to liberate Lhasa from Beijing's rule. His Tibet House in New York City, something of a cultural embassy for expatriates, is the magnet that draws celebrities and a new generation of seekers to the cause of the Land of the Snows, to the fabled faith of a fabled land. With two major films due on the Dalai Lama, some wonder if his lost horizon may be spoiled by the glitziness of its Hollywood adherents and entrance into the mainstream. But Robert Thurman does not mind the company. "All that is to the good," he says. "Certain things about Buddhism that are old-fashioned, chauvinist, stupid, teachers who are irresponsible, that will be brought to light. But in the long run, America will learn about Buddhism."

It helps to have fathered actress Uma, but Thurman, 56, has led a life that could very well be made into a movie. Like the Buddha, he once enjoyed a princely existence, but after losing an eye in a freak accident, he left his well-born wife and young child to travel as a virtual mendicant through Turkey, Iran and India, where he had planned to earn a living by teaching English to boys designated as reincarnations of venerable lamas. Eventually he converted to Tibetan Buddhism, befriended the Dalai Lama and became a monk. Convinced by his teachers that his calling lay elsewhere, Thurman gave up his vows, married Nena von Schlebrugge (Uma's mother) and entered academia. His advisers had been prescient. Says actor and fellow traveler Richard Gere: "He just has enormous power in that arena. He's bright, he's iconoclastic, he's verbal, he's funny, he's avuncular, he's all of those things that you want in a professor. He turns people on."

Steve Coz, editor, National Enquirer
At a time when the press is drawing fire (rightly or wrongly) for everything from stalking Richard Jewell to bringing hidden cameras into grocery stores, the National Enquirer is on a roll. The photo it published of O.J. Simpson wearing Bruno Magli shoes was perhaps the key piece of evidence that persuaded a civil jury to find him responsible for the death of his ex-wife and Ron Goldman. Its offer of a $100,000 reward in the murder of Ennis Cosby led police to the man now charged with the crime. In stories ranging from the Dick Morris scandal to the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, the Enquirer and its fellow tabloids have been out front, while much of the mainstream media follow.

A big reason is Steve Coz, who was named editor of the Enquirer in September 1995 after 14 years with the splashy supermarket weekly. Coz, 39, is one of a new breed of editors who are making the tabs more influential. In contrast to his predecessor, Iain Calder, who only finished high school, Coz graduated cum laude from Harvard. He has stressed hard news, opening a Washington bureau and aggressively pursuing the stories that end up on the evening news. "We pare things down to the bone," he says, "to make sure we're giving readers the accurate information they need without inundating them with boring details."

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