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How the man behind CNN was inspired by classics
11:45 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

CNN founder Ted Turner tells Christiane Amanpour he has to "live with" regret at being pushed out of his company

"You've got to be able to take some disappointment in life ... to roll with the punches," the billionaire media mogul insists

Turner wants to help save the planet and get rid of nuclear weapons, which he says are like having "dynamite in your basement"

CNN  — 

Will CNN founder Ted Turner ever get over getting pushed out of his own company?

“No,” Turner tells Christiane Amanpour. “I don’t have to get over it. I live with it.”

As Turner approaches his 77th birthday, CNN – the first ever 24-hour news network – remains very close to his heart, and he’s still dealing with the regret of losing it.

“You’ve got to be able to take some disappointment in life, too … you just have to roll with the punches [when] adversity hits you.”

Amanpour visited the billionaire media mogul and philanthropist at his sprawling Montana ranch, where he spoke frankly about CNN, his successes, failures, family and goals for the future.

Turner admitted CNN came very close to not making it: In the network’s first year, things were going so poorly, financially speaking, that Turner recalls the bankers asking for their money back.

“It was really fun. I mean – and it was scary.”

But Turner, undeterred as always, had faith in his mission: “I knew what I was doing. At least I felt like I knew what I was doing. And it turned out that I did.”

Dealing with failure

Turner, a bold thinker, and never one to take no for an answer, had a simple response when asked how he deals with failure: “Try to avoid it.”

And avoid it, he has. Turner has found success in nearly everything he’s done and amassed billions of dollars in the process – $1 billion of which he gave away to the United Nations.

At 76, Turner’s step has surely slowed – he admits he’s tired and suffers from atrial fibrillation – but the billionaire is not ready to rest on his laurels.

Turner follows the advice of his father, who tragically shot himself when Ted was just 24: be sure to set your goals so high that you can’t possibly accomplish them in one lifetime.

And his current aim, to protect the environment, is about as big as goals can get. His car is adorned with two bumper stickers, proclaiming: “Save the Planet” and “Save Everything.”

Captain Planet

Turner’s magnificent Montana ranch is part of the two million acres he owns across several states. Bison roam everywhere (Turner owns the world’s largest private herd) and bald eagles routinely fly by.

This is where he calls home in the summer, and he seems quite at ease here, whether mingling with the animals, horseback riding, fishing or simply sitting on the deck and taking in the glorious lake view.

Turner’ says his biggest fear is nuclear weapons. He wants to get rid of them all, saying having the weapons is like having “dynamite in your basement.”

“It’s time to put war behind us,” he says, “We’ve made enough progress to where we can say goodbye to war.”

For a man of great wealth, he does not live very lavishly at the ranch, and says he avoids using electricity unless it’s absolutely necessary.

For Turner, clean energy is the next big business endeavor. He’s already in the solar power business and his advice to young entrepreneurs is to get involved: “We have a chance to make a fortune in [clean] energy.”

Turner the ‘jackass’

Turner did not study business in college, as one might expect. Instead, he focused on classics at Brown University.

When his father learned of this, he was irate, and sent his son a scathing letter, which read in part:

“My Dear Son, I am appalled, even horrified that you have adopted classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on the way home today … I think you are rapidly becoming a jackass, and the sooner you get out of that filthy atmosphere, the better it will suit me.”

Turner was so amused by the missive that he sent it to his college paper, which republished it in full.

He says he’s never regretted studying classics, and that he lives with the lessons he learned about honor.

“There’s not one blemish on my honor in my entire 76-year career … I never paid anybody off … It’s very easy to slip into a lot of corruption. Very easy. But I resisted it all the way along.”

Turner recites a passage from Shakespeare’s Richard II to illustrate his belief:

“My honor is my life, we live in one. Take honor from me and my life is done. Then pray my liege, my honor let me try, for that I live, for that I die.”