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The walls of Ted Turner's international headquarters,14 floors above downtown Atlanta,are lined with Oscar statuettes.If you try to pick one up,for example,the actual best-production award for Casablanca,you will discover that they are all firmly bolted to their glass display shelves,and Turner's aides will break their frowns to laugh at you.




Turner is the 72-year-old multibillionaire founder of CNN,former champion sailor,Rhett Butler lookalike and record-breaking philanthropist.

Turner has just emerged from the worst two years of his life -- years that he has said left him feeling"suicidal".In spring 2000,he was suddenly sidelined from the broadcasting company he had built from scratch.Then his wife of eight years,the actress Jane Fonda,came home one night and informed him that she was now a born-again Christian;they divorced last year.Two of his grandchildren developed a rare genetic disorder,and one died.Turner's friends said he was inconsolable.Then,just when he felt it could get no worse,he brought the wrath of America upon himself by a speech in Rhode Island saying that the September 11 hijackers had been"brave".



Then he threw himself into his charity work.Turner's UN Foundation,the biggest of his three charities,recently spent $22.2 in one month combating intestinal parasites in Vietnamese children,reducing China's greenhouse-gas emissions and helping women from Burkina Faso start businesses selling nut butter.


Nigel Pritchard,CNN's head of international public relations,who is sitting beside me,has prepared a memo outlining some things his boss might like to consider not saying.It politely suggests that he might steer clear of talking about AOL Time Warner,and,specifically,he might like to avoid reference to that Rhode Island speech.Turner is notorious for doing as he pleases.Early in his career,he made a pitch wearing no clothes to advertising executives;later,he went to Cuba to get Fidel Castro to tape a promotional slot for CNN.

He has various worldsaving projects:from preventing the extinction of the Chiricahua leopard frog in the wilds of New Mexico to founding an influential nuclear non-proliferation institute.Turner really does seem to see himself as locked in a personal battle against apocalypse.He doesn't just give money:his staff are sometimes taken aback to see him skulking in the streets nearby,picking up litter.



When Turner gave his first billion to the UN,he dropped 67 laces on the Forbes 500 rich list,out of the top 10 for ever

It isn't hard to see how Turner's childhood might have instilled this sense of permanent crisis,of desperate insecurity,behind the frenzied activity that is his trademark.His father,from whom he inherited an advertising business that he turned into CNN,was prone to fits of rage,and beat him with a coathanger;he committed suicide when Turner was24.Even before that,his younger sister had died from an immune disease when she was 12,and Ted was sent to a boarding school he hated.His father,he has said,not without admiration,believed that instilling insecurity in his son would help him to achieve.All in all,Turner seems to have been a well-qualified candidate for total psychic collapse."But when everything goes wrong,"he says today,"you can either give up or you can try to fight.I tried to fight."



After a brief spell in the armed forces,he ploughed his energies into his father's billboard business,purchasing a radio station and using empty billboards to advertise it.His radio empire grew,and expanded to local television.By 1980,he was launching CNN,although it was not until the Gulf war that the often-derided channel came into its own.He created the Cartoon Network,and bought hundreds of old MGM films,which he recycled on another lucrative channel,Turner Classic Movies.His firm eventually merged with Time Warner.But then came AOL,and Gerald Levin,the chief executive of the new giant,decided he didn't need Turner -- or perhaps couldn't tolerate his unpredictability.Levin is gone now,and his replacement,Richard Parsons,has brought Turner back into the fold in a new vice-chairman position.The line from corporate communications is that Turner is back in the saddle.But this is not how Turner sees it.