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Top 25 Most Fascinating People

Aired May 14, 2005 - 20:00   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Top 25 most fascinating people, but first, the headlines.
Mexico says President Vicente Fox had no racist intent in a comment he made. Vicente Fox said Mexican immigrants to the U.S. take jobs that, quote, "not even blacks" want to do.

The U.S. military says Operation Matador in western Iraq was a success. During the past week, more than 125 insurgents were killed and about 40 captured. Nine U.S. marines were killed and 40 wounded.

Millions of Americans use the drugs Lipitor, Zocor and Pravachol to lower their cholesterol. Now researchers say that those same drugs, known as statins, they also help prevent breast cancer and a range of other cancers. What is unclear, though, is how the statins reduce the risk.

Some of your favorite oldie bands just won't fade away. Are they playing for the paycheck or the satisfaction? More than that at 10 o'clock Eastern on CNN SATURDAY NIGHT.

Next, top 25 fascinating people with the fascinating Bill Hemmer.


BILL HEMMER, CNN HOST (voice-over): The most fascinating people of CNN's first 25 years, from the famous -- a people's princess who left us before her time, to the fleet -- we all wanted to be like Mike. And fervent, a leader with chutzpah and staying power.

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Maybe they tried to bury me to early.

HEMMER: To focused -- a man bent on social change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it was his sense of the character of himself and South African people.

HEMMER: And faithful, a pope who spread the word of God around the world. We are counting down the people who captured our attention and our world over the past 25 years.

(on camera): I'm Bill Hemmer from the Barnes & Noble in New York City, and welcome to what we consider the ultimate list, the 25 most fascinating people of the past 25 years, all this as CNN celebrates its own 25 anniversary. We compiled the following list with the editors of "Time Magazine."

ROB SAFIAN, "TIME MAGAZINE": We started this list by looking at the person of the year issue that "Time" has done over the last 25 years, and that certainly pointed up a great many of the names on the list, but we want a list that represented a broad range of political, social and economic influences that have run through America and have run through our world over the last 25 years.

HEMMER: Twenty five years, 25 fascinating people. We begin our list now with a master storyteller, and his love of film making started early. As a young boy he was already directing home movies in his own back yard just for fun. Years later, he turned that talent into blockbuster gold.


HEMMER (voice-over): One of Hollywood's best known and wealthiest directors, Steven Spielberg has been breaking box office records for decades. From "Jaws" and "Jurassic Park" to "Saving Private Ryan."

SAFIAN: The emotional connection that he made with "E.T.", the emotional connection that he made with "Schindler's List," these are quintessential American movies.

HEMMER: Spielberg used the proceeds from "Schindler's List" to create Shoah, an organization that chronicles the stories of Holocaust survivors.

With more than 100 movies and two Academy Awards for "Best Director" behind him, Spielberg's estimated worth is more than $2 billion.


HEMMER (on camera): Next on our list, at number 24, the reigning queen of television. Our countdown continues with the media mogul who is on a first name basis with millions. Here is Soledad O'Brien.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Oprah Winfrey is the undisputed queen of daytime television. The namesake of one of the most popular women's magazines in the country and a billionaire, perennially on the list of "Forbes" wealthiest Americans.

OPRAH WINFREY, TV HOST: We are buying you a home.

O'BRIEN: Surprising, when you consider Oprah's humble beginnings in rural Mississippi. Abandoned by her mother until age six, molested as a child, Oprah survived despite her troubled family life and thrived.

Gayle King has been Oprah's best friend since the 1970s.

GAYLE KING, FRIEND OF OPRAH: She remembers her grandmother washing clothes in the backyard, saying you'd better watch me, girl, because you're going to need to know this and something inside her knew that, no I ain't, she knew my life is going to be something. And who knew it would be some thing.

WINFREY: I am Oprah Winfrey.

O'BRIEN: After years in local television, Oprah went national in 1986. "The Oprah Winfrey Show" was number one within a year.

PHIL DONAHUE, FORMER TALK SHOW HOST: She became a smash in a wink. It really took us almost ten years to do what she was able to do in less than one year.

O'BRIEN: She has chatted with celebrities and politicians, but it is her ability to empathize and connect with ordinary people that sets Oprah apart.

DR. PHIL MCGRAW, "DR. PHIL": She will find a quality in anyone and everyone that she can focus on to build on.

WINFREY: It didn't come easy getting in this town.

O'BRIEN: The key to her success, her willingness to share her story.

KING: I was going to say, did you really mean to tell the people that? They honestly don't have to know every single little thing that has happened in your life. But she is very comfortable about where she is today.

O'BRIEN: The United Nations last year awarded Oprah the Global Humanitarian Action Award for her commitment to the education of women and children around the world.

WINFREY: You must always hold your head up.

O'BRIEN: It's Africa she is focusing on now, working with Nelson Mandela to provide books and supplies to thousands of children. A girls' school she is building in South Africa is scheduled to open in 2007. Then there is Oprah's Angel Network. In its eight years, viewers have donated $27 million to charity. At 51 years old, Oprah says she has never been better. What does the future hold? Just ask her best friend.

KING: I don't know, people, what the next thing is going to be. I have no clue. Whatever it is, though, it's going to be big.

HEMMER (voice over): At number 23, world famous evangelist, the Reverend Billy Graham, with an appeal that transcends denominations. Graham has been the advisor of presidents and a calming voice in national crisis.

BILLY GRAHAM, EVANGELIST: We have always needed God from the very beginning of this nation, but today we need him especially.

HEMMER: For more than 55 years, the charismatic Christian has preached around the world.

SAFIAN: Billy Graham bought evangelical Christianity to a mass audience, to a mass group in not a particularly dogmatic way, but a very broad way and a very accessible way.

HEMMER: Princess Diana graces number 22. The shy bride of Britain's Prince Charles charmed the world from the start. A magnificent wedding drew millions of viewers and the princess became the most watched royal.

PRISCILLA PAINTON, "TIME MAGAZINE": Princess Diana basically helped save the British monarchy by simply pulling it into the modern would and by understanding how to keep it interesting and sexy.

HEMMER: She gave birth to two royal heirs, and then her fairy tale fell apart. She struggled with an unhappy marriage and a royal divorce. She became the people's princess, taking on causes like AIDS and land mines. Her quest to find love again ended tragically in a Paris car crash in 1997. And an outpouring of grief stretched around the world.


HEMMER: We're counting down to number one as a look at our top 25 fascinating people of CNN's first 25 years continues. Coming up, he is known for flying through the air with the greatest of ease.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He would do things on a court that you never had seen before.

HEMMER: And later, don't miss the number one pick. Here's a hint, once a college football player, he tackled the world's problems with a winning attitude, uniting people from opposite sides. There's more ahead on CNN's top 25.


HEMMER (on camera): As we countdown the 25 most fascinating people of CNN's first quarter century, we continue with a man who may have been the best we will ever see in a basketball uniform. He wore number 23, but he is on our list at 21. Here is Larry Smith.


LARRY SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His fame and popularity are so widespread he really needs no introduction, but just for the record, he is basketball legend Michael Jordan.

DOMINIQUE WILKINS, FORMER NBA PLAYER: He competes almost on a level where he seems evil. That's how competitive he is. Michael is the kind of competitor, if you don't bring it that night, or if you are not ready to play, you are going to get embarrassed.

DEAN SMITH, FORMER COACH, UNC: We would -- sometimes to have an even scrimmage and whatever team I put him on always won. And he took that very seriously. Just a scrimmage. L. SMITH: This North Carolina Tar Heel made Chicago his kind of town in 1984 and turned the Second City into champions. Despite a brief retirement to try his hand at pro baseball in 1994, Jordan led the Bulls to six NBA crowns, while winning five MVP awards and a record 10 scoring titles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He would do things on a court that you never had seen before.

L. SMITH (on camera): It was Jordan's allure and his impending second retirement that put the Georgia Dome in the record books in March of 1998. An all time NBA record crowd of more than 62,000 came to see his final Atlanta appearance in a Bulls uniform. But the infatuation with M.J. went well beyond the sports arena.

(voice-over): Michael Jordan was and still is pop culture. He made a shaved had cool and baggy shorts hip. Everyone wanted to be like Mike and walk in his Air Jordans. In 1998 "Fortune Magazine" estimated that the Jordan craze had meant $10 billion to the economy.

D. SMITH: He certainly has a tremendous gift of coming across well on television.

KENNY SMITH, NBA ANALYST, TNT: Michael Jordan came around at exactly the time when Magic and Bird had brought the league to a new height. Magic and Bird played on the ground. Michael played in the air.

L. SMITH: Jordan's popularity has endured through gambling allegations and a paternity suit. Despite that, he pushes forward, as you might expect. A brief stint as a part owner, team executive and player for the Washington Wizards a few years ago only whetted his appetite to buy an NBA team on his own.

D. SMITH: He is great in judging talent so I am sure he will find a place and remain in basketball.

LARRY BROWN, HEAD COACH, DETROIT PISTON: I am hopeful that he will be in the league again as an owner, and we need ownership from guys like Michael.


HEMMER: Jordan changed the game and our next person has done the same in a completely different category. His words are so closely watched, even the thickness of his briefcase can move a market.


HEMMER (voice-over): The man who moves the markets comes in at number 20. He is not a dynamic speaker.

ALAN GREENSPAN, CHAIRMAN OF THE FED: All told, the economy seems to have entered 2005 expanding at a reasonably good pace.

HEMMER: But when Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan talks, the financial markets and the world listens. After five consecutive terms as Fed chairman under four different presidents, Greenspan has guided interest rates, the stock market, the economy and more.

SAFIAN: If there is any one figure who is going to get both credit and blame for the state and the future of the American economy, it is Alan Greenspan.

HEMMER: Number 19, a modern saint with mass appeal, Mother Teresa. As a young Albanian nun, she entered the slums of Calcutta to work among the bottom caste of Indian society, the so-called untouchables.

Her good works resonated around the world into the highest levels of power.

ROMESH RATNESAR, "TIME MAGAZINE": She forced people in the developed world to pay attention to the fact that there are billions of people living in poverty and that they need help.

HEMMER: Mother Teresa died in 1997 but Pope John Paul II beatified her only six years later, putting her on the fast track to official sainthood.

At 18, a Polish shipyard worker with a passion for freedom.

LECH WALESA, POLISH LEADER: Freedom is a human right.

HEMMER: Lech Walesa's feisty determination inspired Poland's Solidarity trade union and the eventual fall of the Iron Curtain.

RATNESAR: He spoke out at a time when it was almost unheard of and I think had a kind of galvanizing effect for lots of people.

HEMMER: For his efforts against communism, Walesa earned the Nobel Peace Prize and in 1989 Poland formed the first non-communist government in the Soviet Bloc and one year later Walesa was elected the first president.

(on camera): Our countdown continues now with an American politician. His Republican Revolution is still shaping politics today.

(voice-over): At number 17, Newt Gingrich, the controversial former Speaker of the House. Under his leadership, the Republican Party regained control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.

SAFIAN: His Contract with America inspired his party and inspired the party faithful and set the tone for the Republican majority that is now ruling in the federal government.

HEMMER: But in 1998, a power struggle emerged and two days after being reelected, Gingrich resigned from his post as speaker and some weeks later left Congress.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: If I were to remain in the House, I would be an excuse for divisiveness and factions.

HEMMER: Sixteen on the list is computer and marketing mastermind Steve Jobs.

SAFIAN: Steve Jobs is the man who brought us the Apple Computer, he brought us the iPod, he brought us Pixar movies. He is the most innovative and creative business leader, arguably, of the last 25 years.

HEMMER: Jobs' vision for product design has pushed Apple to the forefront of computers and now digital music.

PAINTON: All you need to know about the influence of Steve Jobs is to look around you on any street in America today and watch the number of people who are traipsing around wearing iPods in their ears.

HEMMER: Always looking for the next big thing, Jobs reveals Apple's newest innovations at shows that are more like rock concerts than conventions.


HEMMER: We're on our way to number one, and here's another hint.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was romantic about his country, he was romantic about the notion of freedom in the world.

HEMMER: Also coming up, the two business titans who were good for surfers and shoppers. There is more to come on CNN's top 25.


HEMMER: Number 15 on our list recognizes a warrior who has been loved and hated, but through the turmoil in the Middle East, he has been a survivor. John Vause with his story.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ariel Sharon has always been a fighter, a veteran of all of Israel's wars, a bulldozer in politics as well.

SHARON: I can talk and I can look into the eyes of the citizens of Israel and convince them to make painful compromises.

VAUSE: For most of his life, Sharon has been associated with war, the man Israeli's turned to during their darkest days, the daring general who many believe saved the country during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the unyielding prime minister who unleashed the Israeli military during a wave of unprecedented attacks by Palestinian militants in 2002.

RANAAN GISSIN, SHARON ADVISER: Always worried about the destiny of the Jewish people. And it is clear that for the Jewish people to survive in this world, they have to stand up and fight. VAUSE: But for Arabs, he is the butcher of Beirut. As defense minister, he was the architect of Israel's ill-fated invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

DAVID HOROVITZ, POLITICAL ANALYST: This as a misadventure and an ill-fated invasion and Sharon was trying to play a superpower here and rearrange the region in a way that he thought would better help Israel.

VAUSE: An Israeli commission found him indirectly responsible for the murder of hundreds of Palestinians at a Lebanese refugee camp. The killing was done by a Christian militia, Israel's allies at the time. Sharon was accused of doing nothing to stop it and banned from ever being defense minister again.

GISSIN: He felt betrayed. He felt betrayed by the government.

VAUSE: To Palestinians, Sharon is a bully and a brute, determined to deny them an independent state.

HANAN ASHAWRI, PALESTINIAN LEGLISTOR: Sharon is the bloodiest of Israeli leaders. Force troopers (ph), no compunction, killing people, men, women, children, destroying homes, destroying trees and crops, stealing land.

VAUSE: In 2001 he beat incredible odds to be elected prime minister. Later he was asked how he had risen from the political grave.

SHARON: Maybe they tried to bury me to early and maybe not deep enough.

VAUSE: A year later he ordered the construction of Israel's barrier through the West Bank and confined his old nemesis, Yassir Arafat, to his Ramallah compound almost until the day he died. He promised to bring peace and security to Israeli, was reelected to a second term in a landslide and after a dramatic drop in suicide bombings and other attacks this year and last, some anticipate he may just deliver what no Israeli prime minister has ever done.


HEMMMER: We move from Israel now to the State of Arkansas and an American tycoon who helped change the way America does business, along the way, he preferred driving his old Ford pickup truck and made his money with everyday low prices.


HEMMER (voice-over): The man who put the "Wal" in Wal-Mart cashes in at 14. Sam Walton started it all in Arkansas with a simple formula, big stores in small towns with even smaller prices.

SAM WALTON, FOUNDER OF WAL-MART: You are the janitor as well as the stockman, you learn a lot. HEMMER: He built an empire of discount stores that changed retailing forever, enabling the retailer, not the manufacturer, to call the shots.

PAINTON: To this day, Wal-Mart knows what we want to buy, when we want to buy it and can adjust those needs even within one buying season.

HEMMER: The discount chain made Walton and his family very wealthy and in the top 10 of the Fortune 500. Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the U.S. and continues to grow today.

Number 13, Saddam Hussein. He ruled Iraq with an iron fist for more than two decades, putting events in motion that sparked two Gulf wars.

RATNESAR: Saddam Hussein will go down in history as one of the last true tyrants of the 20th century, one that persisted long enough that ultimately the U.S. decided he needed to be removed.

HEMMER: Hussein was captured north of Baghdad in December 2003. He is awaiting trial by a special tribunal in Iraq for war crimes.

Britain's Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher became...



BILL HEMMER, HOST: Welcome back to CNN TOP 25. I'm Bill Hemmer at Barnes and Noble in New York City. We're counting down the 25 fascinating people of the past 25 years.

With the editors at "Time" magazine, we put together the list as CNN celebrates its own 25th anniversary. And that list continues with number 10, and a man who is both terrorist and peacemaker.


HEMMER: His nickname, Yassir, means "easy-going" in Arabic. Yet, Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat's often volatile actions hardly lived up to that moniker. Elected chairman of the PLO in 1969, he began a legacy of violence that included the attack that left 11 Israeli athletes dead at the '72 Munich Olympics.

Later, he endorsed U.N. Resolution 242, seeking compromise between the Palestinians and Israel, a separate state for each. For his peacemaking efforts, he won the Nobel Prize in 1994, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

ROMESH RATNESAR, SENIOR EDITOR, TIME MAGAZINE: His legacy will be one of putting the issue of the Palestinians on the table, forcing the world to pay attention.

HEMMER: Confined to his West Bank compound during his final years, Arafat died on November 11, 2004, leaving the Palestinian- Israeli conflict unresolved.


HEMMER: Another Nobel Prize-winner enters our list at number nine. And through his own personal struggle, he became the symbol of a nation's struggle for freedom and for justice.

Here's Renay San Miguel.


RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 27 years, they had cried, "Free Mandela." And when Nelson Mandela finally was freed in 1990, celebrations erupted around the world.

JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: The role of a leader is, at Mandela's level, of the risk, the suffering, the sacrifices, success, can transform a society.

MIGUEL: Official apartheid was born in the late 1940s out of the South African white minority's desire to put into law its repression of blacks. It was around that same time that Mandela joined the African National Congress, the foundation of black South African resistance.

As apartheid grew more extreme and violent, so did Mandela. He formed the ANC's military unit and went underground, gaining a reputation for narrow escapes, but was finally caught and sentenced to life in prison in 1964.

Desmond Tutu, South Africa's first black archbishop, also a Nobel Prize-winner, says Mandela's sheer moral strength from inside a prison cell wore down apartheid.

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU, NOBEL LAUREATE: He was the only one who called and persuaded a whole nation to say we turn our backs on retribution and vengeance, and that we will try to walk the path of forgiveness and reconciliation.

MIGUEL: Yet, once he was finally outside Robben Islands' infamous walls, Mandela still had work to do. Nelson Mandela became a strong voice of influence in civil rights, with a very delicate balancing act, negotiating with white South African leadership to end apartheid while making sure his country did not descend into civil war, and doing it by having South Africa own that process, not any other country, including the United States.

Princeton Lyman was U.S. ambassador to South Africa at the time Mandela as ANC president and South African President F.W. de Klerk were ending apartheid. That would win both men Nobel Prizes and Lyman's awe and admiration for Mandela.

PRINCETON LYMAN, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH AFRICA: It was his sense of the character of himself and the South African people, a man of great inner strength, and with it, a great deal of confidence, even through some of the very, very difficult things he had to go through.

MIGUEL: But those hardships resulted in one more reward: Mandela became South Africa's president in the country's first democratic elections in 1994. He stepped down five years later, but now there's a new, very personal cause for Mandela, AIDS.

JACKSON: His moral authority, now accentuated by the death of his own son, again gives him that unique position to educate a world.


HEMMER: The last man to lead the Soviet Union makes our list at number eight. Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of Glasnost and Perestroika created new freedoms in the USSR and a new openness with the West. Gorbachev's unique relationship with President Ronald Reagan marked a new era, and the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

Shortly after a failed coup attempt in 1991, Gorbachev resigned. The Soviet Union collapsed, and a new Russia was born. Recently, Gorby celebrated the 20th anniversary of his now legendary reforms.


HEMMER: At number seven, the world's most-wanted man, Osama bin Laden.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're on a constant hunt for bin Laden. We're keeping the pressure on him, keeping him in hiding.

HEMMER: With a $25 million reward on his head, the Saudi millionaire is linked to several terrorist attacks, including the 1993 World Trade Center, the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and of course, September 11th.

RATNESAR: And that was the kind of attack that in some ways was inconceivable 20 years ago simply because you didn't have any organization that had the resources and the reach of Al Qaeda.

HEMMER: Bin Laden has eluded widespread U.S. search efforts since 9/11, surfacing only on audio or videotape.


HEMMER: Back in 1992, not many people gave Bill Clinton much of a chance at winning the White House. But his political savvy eventually won the day for the Democrats, and that was just the beginning. Sharon Collins remembers the pop culture president.


SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a political risk for a presidential candidate playing saxophone in sunglasses on "Arsenio Hall." But then, some would say, Bill Clinton was born knowing how to charm a crowd. DONNA SHALALA, FORMER HHS SECRETARY: He understood the group that he was speaking to, and it was real, because he loved people, and more than anything else, he loved being president of the United States.

COLLINS: One of the youngest U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton brought the Baby Boom generation to the White House. He admitted trying marijuana, confessed his addiction to junk food, and was nicknamed "Elvis" by the Secret Service.

Tall and charismatic, he was plagued by rumors and accusations of adultery, culminating with an event that still threatens to overshadow his achievements.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual relations with that woman...

COLLINS: Detractors say his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky brought disgrace to the Oval Office. The scandal led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives, but the Senate voted not to convict him. Supporters say its more important to remember that he brought the country eight years of economic prosperity and national peace.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And I think that the real legacy is that he came and he really built a better country, a country that was more united, a country where we had our fiscal policies were in tact. We were respected, and to some extent, loved around the world.

COLLINS: His book, "My Life," sold two million copies last year. It offers some insight into what makes Bill Clinton such a complex personality. He writes, "I am a living paradox, wanting responsibility, yet shirking it; loving the truth, but oftentimes giving way to falsity." Clinton wrote those words when he was just a junior in high school.

He talks about growing up with an alcoholic stepfather and living in a segregated South, disgusted by the injustices he saw around him.

JACKSON: He's an incredibly bright man, an authentic genius. He thinks well. He sees broadly. He has a global worldview. It's a sense of racial reconciliation, how to balance the rightwing and the leftwing, Democrats and Republicans, black and white, he almost marvels at this capacity to be a huge force for change.

COLLINS: It would seem that what makes Bill Clinton so fascinating is that he is so fascinated by the people around him.

JANET RENO, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think it's that he's one of the smartest men I've ever met who has the capacity to talk to a person as if they're the most important person around.

COLLINS: Not long after heart surgery, he was appointed U.N. envoy for tsunami reconstruction. Just last month, he announced that the Clinton Foundation will donate $10 million to expand AIDS treatment for children in developing countries.

Bill Clinton is still working on his life story, and perhaps his legacy.


HEMMER: We're closing in on number one. Do you think you know who it is? Here's another hint. He was considered a cowboy, but he was born in Illinois. Hold on, as we continue our countdown on CNN'S TOP 25.


HEMMER: Number one on our list is just a few minutes away, but first, our countdown continues with three men whose vision and leadership helped bring change around the world.

First, the man who believed the time was right for east to meet west.


HEMMER: At number five, Deng Xiaoping, the revolutionary ruler of the People's Republic of China for more than a decade.

RATNESAR: I think Deng Xiaoping was the first modern Chinese leader who brought China out of isolation and brought it into the global community.

HEMMER: Deng improved relations with the west, encouraged international trade, and helped China develop into one of the fastest- growing economies in the world.

GEORGE BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he will go down as one of the great modern leaders.

HEMMER: Deng left office in 1989 after supporting the military actions in Tiananmen Square.

President George W. Bush arrives at four, a political scion who barely won his election in 2000 and shortly thereafter faced the worst terrorist attack ever on its homeland, September 11th.

PRISCILLA PAINTON, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "TIME" MAGAZINE: He embraced an idea in foreign policy, the notion of a preemptive war, and the possibility that that war could spread democracy in a region. And over the objections of many people, he pushed that idea forward.

HEMMER: With U.S. military forces anchored in Iraq and Afghanistan, how well the president's decision served America's interests may not be known until long after he leaves office.

BOB SAFIAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I think his legacy will be judged in part on what happens in the Middle East and in part on Iraq. But I also think his legacy will be judged by what happens in American politics in the next 5, 10, 15 years. HEMMER: The Middle East was also home to number three on our list, Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In 1979, Khomeini sparked an Islamic revolution, ousting the U.S.-supported Shah of Iran and seizing the U.S. embassy, holding 52 Americans hostage for more than a year. Soon, he was at war with Iraq, and America chose sides.

RATNESAR: The Americans believed that we needed to counter his influence. And as a result, we armed Iraq and Saddam Hussein, sided with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and that, too, had long-lasting consequences which we continue to see today.

HEMMER: Khomeini died in 1989 and left a legacy of strained relations between the U.S. and Iran that continues to this day.


HEMMER: We turn to spiritual leadership as our countdown continues, and the focus turns to a man who was a shepherd and a leader to a worldwide flock one billion strong. Alessio Vinci has more on number two.


ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of John Paul II's great gifts was his ability to speak to the masses. He was fluent in at least eight languages. From the very beginning of his papacy, he broke new ground, instantly becoming a subject of public curiosity. He was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years who set precedents on a range of religious issues, organizing gatherings of different spiritual leaders from all around the world and having them all pray together.

John Paul reached out in ways once considered impossible or even heretical, pushing the boundaries. He became the first pope to visit a synagogue in Rome. He prayed at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. And in Syria, the first pope to enter a mosque, urging Christians, Muslims and Jews to work together for peace in the Middle East.

But his popularity stemmed also from his ability to capture a crowd like no pope had done before. And whether wearing a sombrero in Mexico, riding a gondola in Venice, or inviting break-dancers to the Vatican, the pope always added a touch of style, which made him ever so close to those who adored him.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN VATICAN ANALYST: John Paul was, in my ways, a magnet for humanity. We estimate that more people saw John Paul in the flesh than have seen any other single human being in the history of the planet.

VINCI: So what was it that made the late John Paul II so universally popular? What was it that drove big crowds into the streets every time he would show up in any given city around the world? What was it?

Other popes, even in recent times, have enjoyed popular support. But with John Paul II, there was a difference. ALLEN: The difference is -- and this is the first pope who has gotten old and died before our eyes, day-to-day, week-to-week, month- to-month, on TV. And I don't think that was by design, obviously. But Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II, is a smart enough man that he realized that was going to happen inevitably. And so he decided to, in effect, make it part of his act.

VINCI: In the final years of his papacy, the man offered to early on as God's athlete could no longer walk or stand on his own. And in the final days, he even had trouble speaking.

But when he died on April the 2nd, the millions who turned out to pay their last respects stood as a testament to the fact that his message was never lost.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's overwhelming. And it does mirror, you know, how people really did feel about the pope.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know it's so sad, but it's really celebrating such a wonderful life. I mean, when you travel to all those countries, like -- you know, the least we can do is come and, you know, say goodbye, you know (UNINTELLIGIBLE)


HEMMER: We've finally reached the top of our list. There is only one person left. Is it a Hollywood star, a leading politician, or a U.S. president? It might be all three.

Have you figured it out? We'll tell you, next, on CNN's TOP 25.


HEMMER: And so we've arrived at number one. His roots may have been in Hollywood, but his starring role was in Washington, D.C. The most intriguing man of the last quarter century, Ronald Reagan.


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: About that four more we just signed on for them this morning.

HEMMER: Known as the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan used the power of his words to help restore America's belief in itself.

NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he'll be remembered for giving hope and confidence back to the people.

HEMMER: Delivering a great line is what Reagan did so well.

REAGAN: Go ahead. Make my day.

MICHAEL DEAVER, FMR. DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: What came out was confidence and consistency. And that's what made him a great communicator. HEMMER: "Dutch" Reagan landed his first job in Davenport, Iowa, as a radio sports announcer. A gifted storyteller with a soothing voice, Reagan was a natural. From there, he moved to Hollywood. And with experience as a football player at tiny Eureka College, Reagan scored the role of the Gipper.

REAGAN: Win just one for the Gipper.

HEMMER: Later, Reagan got his first taste in politics, as president of the actor's union. Still climbing, he became California's governor and later one of the most popular U.S. presidents.

But his personal journey was not always smooth. Reagan's first marriage to leading lady Jane Wyman failed. Friends say it left him devastated. But that same year, Reagan met another actress, Nancy Davis. They married March 4, 1952. It was the beginning of a great American love story.

DEAVER: He absolutely adored her, as he said, "I can't imagine a life without her. She saved my soul. Life began when I met Nancy." It used to just astound me that he would come back up, or I'd walk back over from the Oval Office to the White House, and they would greet each other as if he'd been on safari for four weeks in Africa or something. He'd been gone for four hours.

HEMMER: In a 1999 interview, Nancy Reagan revealed the secret to their marriage.

NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: When you marry, you make a commitment that should be taken seriously, love, and obey, and honor, in sickness and in health. And for me, it was never a problem. I was committed to Ronnie right away.

HEMMER: Born in Tampico, Illinois, Reagan survived a nomadic childhood, coping with an alcoholic father. But it was his deeply religious mother who taught Reagan his life-lasting values.

Nelle Reagan instilled in him fundamental Christian values. And admirers say Reagan was always optimistic, kind-hearted to a fault because he trusted that God had a greater plan for him.

DEAVER: Reagan absolutely believed that there was a divine purpose for each of us.

HEMMER: And Reagan believed that purpose was to promote freedom and liberty.

REAGAN: The freedoms our forefathers won for us endure. We still stand for freedom throughout the world.

HEMMER: Soon after he became president in 1981, he was shot by a would-be assassin, John Hinckley. After a brief recovery, he returned to duty, and his popularity soared.

Reagan's goals as president were to cut taxes, cut spending to spur the economy, and most importantly, to bring an end to communism. On June 12, 1987, Reagan declared this desire to the world.

REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

HEMMER: Two years later, the wall crumbled. The Soviet Union soon followed. Through his time in office, Reagan bonded with world leaders. And those relationships with Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and Mikhail Gorbachev helped bring an end to the Cold War.

LOU CANNON, REAGAN BIOGRAPHER: Ronald Reagan's on this list because he accomplished the most important thing that any president could accomplish, not that he won the Cold War. He saw to it that the Cold War ended peaceably.

HEMMER: On June 5, 2004, after a long and private battle with Alzheimer's, Reagan reached the sunset of his life. And once again, Nancy was by his side.


HEMMER: A final win for the Gipper.

And that does it for this edition of CNN TOP 25. You can visit our Web site at to read more about our list. I'm Bill Hemmer, from Barnes and Noble in New York City. Thanks for watching.


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