Top 25: Fascinating people
President Reagan makes a stop at a New York rally during the 1984 presidential campaign.
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TOP FASCINATING PEOPLE
1) Ronald Reagan
2) Pope John Paul II
3) Ayatollah Khomeini
4) George W. Bush
5) Deng Xiaoping
6) Bill Clinton
7) Osama bin Laden
8) Mikhail Gorbachev
9) Nelson Mandela
10) Yasser Arafat
11) Bill Gates
12) Margaret Thacher
13) Saddam Hussein
14) Sam Walton
15) Ariel Sharon
16) Steve Jobs
17) Newt Gingrich
18) Lech Walesa
19) Mother Teresa
20) Alan Greenspan
21) Michael Jordan
22) Princess Diana
23) Rev. Billy Graham
24) Oprah Winfrey
25) Steven Spielberg
(CNN) -- Ronald Reagan was the most fascinating person of the last quarter-century, according to a Top 25 list compiled by CNN and editors at Time magazine. The world of politics is also home to many others who made the list.
President Reagan ushered in the modern-day conservative political movement with two terms in the 1980s. Along with his wife, Nancy, the actor-turned-politician brought back many of the formal ceremonial trappings that had been discarded during the years of Jimmy Carter. Much of the American public went along with a lot of it, taking pride in a more polished national image.
Despite the traditional image of Republicans as rich and privileged, Reagan seemed like a regular guy. At his funeral in 2004, world leaders hailed his personable manner and his role in helping to end the Cold War.
"His politics had a freshness and optimism that won converts from every class and every nation, and ultimately from the very heart of the evil empire," former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, praising Reagan as a "great liberator" for standing against the Soviet Union.
Another Republican president is ranked No. 4 on the list. President Bush entered the White House for the first of his two-term tenure in the wake of the bitterly contested 2000 election. Shortly thereafter, he led the nation through the September 11 attacks and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"He embraced an idea in foreign policy, the notion of a pre-emptive war and the possibility that that war can spread democracy in a region," said Priscilla Painton, executive editor at Time. "Over the objections of many people, he pushed that idea forward in ways history will judge. But where historians won't disagree is accessing the boldness of that idea."
The man who occupied the Oval Office before Bush comes in at No. 6. Bill Clinton was one of the youngest presidents ever and survived an impeachment to remain a Democratic Party icon.
What makes Clinton so fascinating, according to some who know the former president, is that he is so fascinated by the people around him.
"I think it's that he is one of the smartest men I've ever met," says Janet Reno, who was Clinton's attorney general. "[He] has the capacity to talk to a person as if they are the most important person around and as if he understands their hopes and fears and dreams."
A Republican thorn in Clinton's side was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (No. 17) of Georgia. Under Gingrich's leadership, the Republican Party regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.
Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa are two leaders from humble beginnings who changed the world and each garnered a Nobel Peace Prize.
Mandela (No. 9), the son of an African tribal chief, spent most of his life fighting South African apartheid, 27 years of that as a political prisoner. He became the country's first black president.
Walesa (No. 18) was a shipyard worker who inspired Poland's Solidarity trade union and the eventual fall of the Iron Curtain. In 1989, Poland formed the first noncommunist government in the Soviet bloc, and Walesa later was elected president.
Two key players in the Mideast conflict also are on the list: Yasser Arafat (No. 10), who died in 2004, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (No. 15).
Thatcher (No. 12), Britain's first woman prime minister; Russia's reformer ruler, Mikhail Gorbachev (No. 8); and Deng Xiaoping (No. 5) of China are other world leaders who made the list.
Infamous but intriguing
Notoriety was responsible for three of the most fascinating people from the last 25 years placing on the list.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (No. 3) sparked an Islamic revolution that brought down the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran in 1979 and led to dozens of Americans being held hostage for more than a year. When Khomeini died in 1989, thousands mobbed the funeral procession, nearly destroying his coffin to get a glimpse of the body or a piece of his shroud.
Eluding U.S. search efforts for years, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (No. 7) is linked to several terrorist attacks, including September 11.
"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," says Romesh Ratnesar, Time magazine's world editor.
Saddam Hussein (No. 13) ruled Iraq with an iron fist for more than two decades. Setting his sights on expanding his country through force, he invaded Kuwait in 1990, sparking the first of two wars involving the United States. After invading Iraq, U.S. forces captured Saddam in December 2003, and he is awaiting trial by a special tribunal accused of war crimes.
"Saddam Hussein will go down in history as one of the last true tyrants of the 20th century," Ratnesar says. "[He's a tyrant who] persisted long enough that ultimately the U.S. decided he needed to be removed, at great cost to the U.S. and our reputation in the world."
Religion, celebrity and business
While some on the list are fascinating because of their infamy, others made the grade because of their faith or star power.
For more than 55 years, the Rev. Billy Graham (No. 23) has preached around the world. An adviser to presidents, the charismatic Christian proved so popular he moved his sermons out of the church and into stadiums.
Ranking No. 2 on the list is the man who led the Roman Catholic Church for 26 years. The most traveled and most visible pontiff in centuries, Pope John Paul II wielded influence around the world during his papacy before dying in April 2005.
President Bush and former President Clinton are among the many world leaders who have fascinated the public for the last quarter-century.
In 2003, the pope beatified Mother Teresa (No. 19), who had died six years earlier. The move put her on the fast track to official sainthood. Mother Teresa's good works resonated around the world and to the highest levels of power and celebrity.
Princess Diana (No. 22) met with Mother Teresa several times over the years before the "people's princess" died in 1997, five days before the celebrated nun.
"Princess Diana still resonates because there's still a sense after her death that the royal family is remote, and the British sort of miss that," says Time's Painton. "I also think they identify with many of her struggles in some cases: her lack of self-esteem, her desire to have a sort of a fairy-tale life. She brought fairy tales back to the castles of the royals."
Hollywood royalty comes in at No. 25: Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg, the man who invented the movie blockbuster. With such films as "Jaws," "Jurassic Park," "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan," he has broken box-office records and changed the face of modern filmmaking.
Oprah Winfrey (No. 24) -- one of the stars of Spielberg's "The Color Purple" -- has created a multibillion dollar media empire and must-see daytime television since first emerging in the 1980s.
Superstar Michael Jordan (No. 21) has caused a sensation on and off the basketball court. Considered by many to be the best NBA player of all time, the highly marketed sports figure is a savvy businessman as well.
Three of the Top 25 also are known for their business sense: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates (No. 11), Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs (No. 16) and Wal-Mart tycoon Sam Walton (No. 14), who died in 1992.
And finally, there is Alan Greenspan (No. 20). He doesn't run a company or lead a nation, but when the Federal Reserve Board chairman talks, the financial markets -- and world -- listen.
Stay tuned as CNN continues to celebrate its 25th anniversary by unveiling other top 25 lists through 2005.
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