12/25/1995 at 01:00 AM EST
You can find more inspired gambles in Ted Turner's career than in a year in Atlantic City—with the difference that his gambles almost always pay off. Who else could have taken the merest blip of a UHF station in Atlanta and created the satellite broadcast empire that now includes CNN, TBS and TNT? Who else would have seen in the Atlanta Braves, once the doormat of the major leagues, the World Series champs of 1995? At their Atlanta victory parade, there was Turner, 57, exuberantly waving the gold trophy his team had pursued for 19 years.
But an even bigger prize came his way when he agreed to merge his holdings with Time Warner, a producer of movies, music, TV, books and magazines (including PEOPLE). If, as expected, the merger gets Washington's okay, it would create the world's largest media company with Turner as vice chairman and holder of an estimated $2.6 billion in shares. That's a lot for a man who started out in his father's billboard business. "You fight the establishment for so long," says the entrepreneur noted for his bold moves and uncensored tongue, "and one day, you wake up and you're part of it."
Time Warner chief Gerald Levin recalls that when he first got to know Turner in the 1970s, a meeting with him was "like a thunderclap." Says Levin: "He knows in a flash what's right or what makes sense." At the end of the meeting that cinched their merger, Turner gave Levin a bear hug. Sharp judgment plus big feeling makes Turner Turner. Which is why Wall Street is wondering whether he'll be content to call someone else boss.
These days, though, Turner is a mellower guy. Marriage to Jane Fonda has made him deeply content. He has stopped using lithium, the prescription drug he once took for manic depression. At the same time, his concern has grown for his two abiding causes, population control and the environment. "I worry about too many people putting pressure on the planet," he says. "We're so busy with our lives that we miss the big picture." With Turner, that would be understandable. After all, his life is the big picture.