CNN Founder Ted Turner Talks Prayer, Heaven, Hell

As American media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner turns 75 this week, the outspoken agnostic who had formerly described Christianity as "a religion for losers" recently reaffirmed his openness to the religion.

"When I have a friend that's dying of cancer, I say a prayer for them," Turner, the second biggest landowner in North America, told CNN writer Ann O'Neill, days before his 75th birthday on Tuesday.

Turner – who founded CNN in 1980 and WTBS, which pioneered the superstation concept in cable television – was then asked who he prays to. "Whoever is listening," he quipped.

In 2008, Turner told MSNBC that he no longer considers himself an atheist, and prays for sick friends.

He added on MSNBC, "I give a lot of money to those less fortunate than myself and that's one of the tenets of all religions. You know, the wealthy should help those less fortunate than themselves."

Turner, who has devoted his assets to environmental causes, is also known for his $1 billion gift to support the United Nations.

O'Neill recently spoke to Turner's friend, former President Jimmy Carter, about his earlier statement that "Christianity is a religion for losers."

"He knew I was a Christian when he said that," Carter recalled. "Ted had a tendency to say things like that just to be provocative, and to stir people's interest. But later he retracted that statement," Carter said, adding that he hopes Turner will someday "have a profound religious experience."

Turner, who has been married and divorced three times and has four girlfriends, according to CNN, said he's a skeptic by nature, but added that he now allows for the possibility.

As a child, Turner wanted to be a missionary. But he lost faith after he watched his little sister, Mary Jean, die of complications from a rare form of lupus.

"She was sick for five years before she passed away," Turner recalled. "And it just seemed so unfair, because she hadn't done anything wrong. What had she done wrong? And I couldn't get any answers. Christianity couldn't give me any answers to that. So my faith got shaken somewhat."

When Turner was 24, his father shot himself to death, leaving his billboard business to be owned and handled by his son.

Turner's former wife, Jane Fonda, actress and fitness guru, calls him a miracle.

"Given his childhood, he should've become a dictator," she told CNN. "He should've become a not nice person. The miracle is that he became what he is."

Turner and Fonda broke up after the latter's conversion to Christianity, O'Neill says, adding though that religion was only partly responsible for it.

Fonda said she believes Turner will go to heaven. "And there'll be a lot of animals up there welcoming him, animals that have been brought back from the edge of extinction because of Ted," she said, alluding to Turner's role in preventing the extinction of bison.

"He's turned out to be a good guy. And he says he's not religious. But he, the whole time I was with him, every speech -- and he likes to give speeches -- he always ends his speech with 'God bless.' And he'll get into heaven. He's a miracle," Fonda added.

When O'Neill told Turner about Fonda's statement, Turner responded, after a long pause, "She said that?" After another long pause, he continued, "Well, I sure don't want to go to hell."

After yet another pause, Turner added, "Did she say I was gonna buy my way in?" He also added that he "can't see myself sitting on a cloud and playing the harp day in and day out."

Asked what his notion of heaven is, Turner responded by saying, "Montana in the summer."

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