The Taming of Ted Turner

Forget about those legendary tales of excess. Taking the biggest risk of his life, Turner confronted the dark legacy of his father and prevailed.

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For all his days on the sailing circuit, Turner had struck some of those who know him as a joyless monomaniac who pursued achievement not out of passion for the undertaking but out of a tortured focus on the finish line. "He told me 20 times that he never liked sailing," says Wussler. "He said, 'You know, Bob, I got cold and I got wet.' He was more in love with just winning." These days Turner talks about the "Zen experience" of fly-fishing. He has stopped pacing around his home and office (Wussler once counted 74 consecutive circles). And when it is suggested that heaven for Turner might be an eternal baseball game, he protests with the tone of a late-blooming flower child: "No, no, no, that would be too much pressure. I wouldn't want to go and spend all eternity competing at the level that I have in this life."

Turner is also showing signs that he wants to enjoy his family. Four years ago, he began organizing regular family vacations; this year he formed the Turner Family Foundation, whose board is composed of Fonda and his five children, all of whom gather twice a year to allocate money to charitable causes. He is openly affectionate with his children and checks in regularly with Fonda's two kids. And when the Fonda and Turner broods get together, says Teddy, Turner can be talked out of his compulsively active outdoors routine. "You never thought of having fun with Dad before, but now you can," he says. "He does laugh a little more and play a little more." (There have been some cultural clashes between the two families: last Christmas at Turner's Avalon plantation outside Tallahassee, the Fonda children objected to being served by Turner's black help and announced they would clear their own plates. Turner insisted they remain at the table; tempers cooled when Fonda took her children aside for a heart-to-heart.)

BUT TURNER HAS REINVENTED HIMSELF MOST BY shifting his longtime preoccupation with self-destruction away from himself and onto the world. He has always been an environmentalist -- as long, in fact, as he has been a hunter. He told Audubon magazine this year that he spent his life watching sea turtles and whales disappear off the coast of Savannah and ducks disappear from the Eastern flyway. He plans to turn his Flying D ranch near Bozeman into what amounts to a privately owned national park: he has sold all the cattle, uprooted miles of barbed-wire fence, let pastures of hay and alfalfa return to native grasses and started raising a herd of buffalo he hopes will swell to 4,000.

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