The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2006

ByABC News

Dec. 12, 2006 — -- The year 2006 was a fascinating one, and Barbara Walters is looking back at the people who influenced, inspired, entertained and surprised us over the past 12 months. The list includes some of the year's most prominent names in entertainment, politics, sports and business.

When it comes to sports, we tend to focus on the winners. But on Sept. 3 at the U.S. Open, the most fascinating person on the court was Andre Agassi, the one who lost.

It was perhaps the year's most memorable moment in sports: a four-minute standing ovation -- unprompted, unexpected and heartfelt.

Agassi had announced that the Open would be his final match, and addressed the crowd after that magical moment:

"The scoreboard said I lost today, but what the scoreboard doesn't say is what it is I have found. … You have given me your shoulders to stand on, to reach for my dreams -- dreams I could have never reached without you."

Despite eight Grand Slams, an Olympic gold medal and ranking as the best player in the world, over a 21-year career, Agassi's dreams -- he told Walters -- weren't just about winning:

"It was never about winning because … winning only sort of sets you up to say, 'OK, well, I gotta do it again next week, I gotta do it again tomorrow.'"

When he turned pro in 1986 at the age of 16, Agassi was rebellious, long-haired and sexy -- more rock star than tennis star.

His many victories were followed by terrible slumps. And every triumph and every trial -- including a failed marriage to actress Brooke Shields and a painful plunge in the rankings -- played out in the public spotlight.

Walters asked Agassi if he ever considered giving up the game:

"I've probably given up a thousand times in my own mind," Agassi said. "But I knew it would be quitting … not retiring. It would have been quitting, and that, that wasn't working for me."

Agassi did retire after the U.S. Open, and now devotes most of his time to his family: his 5-year-old son, Jade, his 3-year-old daughter, Jaz, and his wife, retired tennis great Steffi Graf.

Agassi has also become another kind of champion: a voice for underprivileged children in his hometown of Las Vegas. The Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation provides funds for education, and has raised more than $60 million.

When asked how he would sum up this past year, Agassi told Walters, "For me, it was … the pinnacle of everything I've sort of dedicated the last 21 years to. What I felt at the U.S. Open makes up for all the struggles this year on the court. It makes up for all the struggles over the last 21 years.

They were, without a doubt, the most fascinating couple of the year.

When Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie met on the set of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," it set off Hollywood's hottest romance … but there were obstacles from the start.

Pitt was married to actress Jennifer Aniston, and Jolie also had other commitments -- to her adopted son, Maddox, and to helping impoverished children around the world as a U.N. ambassador.

When the couple finally connected, their combined star power lit up the media universe.

Pitt adopted Maddox, and a new daughter from Ethiopia, and this spring they retreated from the paparazzi to Namibia, in Africa, where Jolie gave birth to their daughter, Shiloh. The couple sold her baby pictures for a reported $4 million, money they donated to charity.

The Jolie-Pitts are not exactly the folks next door as they travel the world with their brood. They are sexy but domestic, rich beyond measure but equally generous. They are unique, and can only be called "Brangelina."

He is rich, famous, handsome, and adored by millions of fans on television each week, but he's not an actor. He's an evangelical pastor from Houston named Joel Osteen.

They call him "the smiling preacher," and Osteen has a lot to smile about. He's the head of the largest church in America, the author of a best-selling book, and the religious leader for a following of faithful, often frenzied fans.

He's achieved all that with an approach critics call "Christianity lite" -- no sin, no suffering, no sacrifice, replacing fire and brimstone with a motivational message.

Barbara Walters asked Osteen why that message strikes such a chord with people.

"My message is that God is a good God," said Osteen. "And if we all … have the right attitude, he'll take us places that we've never dreamed of."

Certainly Osteen is in a place he never dreamed of: Houston's Lakewood Church collects more than $75 million a year. The congregation is so large that Osteen had to move his church into a former pro basketball arena.

"We're just amazed to be here," Osteen said. "I grew up coming to watch basketball games here. … This is where the Rockets used to play. Every time I come in here, I just feel humbled, and it's been an amazing journey."

That journey started modestly, when Osteen's father began the church in the back of a Houston feed store. For the six Osteen siblings, it was a family affair. Never interested in preaching, Osteen worked on the television and marketing side. But when his father passed away, stepped up to the pulpit and began to spread a unifying message that avoids a number of polarizing issues.

Walters asked Osteen why he stayed away from controversial subjects like gay marriage, abortion or politics.

"Sometimes, I think if you get away from what you're called to do, it's more of a distraction," he said.

Osteen has been criticized for focusing too much on the almighty dollar. Walters asked him about preaching what is called "the prosperity gospel."

"I think the word rich is all relative," Osteen said. "I think down and deep in our hearts, we believe that God does want us to live the abundant life that we can. To me, prosperity is health, good relationships … and money, of course, is part of it."

Speaking of prosperity, rapper Jay-Z knows all about material success. His new album, "Kingdom Come," is at the top of the charts. It's the latest addition to a vast empire that includes Def Jam records, a clothing line, a stake in an NBA team.

Jay-Z was born Shawn Carter, and grew up in the Brooklyn projects. His father left the family when Jay-Z was 12, and he told Walters that it had a "tremendous" impact on his life.

"I would never let anyone get close to me because of that feeling that I had when my pops left," he said. "I never wanted anyone to get that close to me again."

Jay-Z was a drug dealer as a teenager in the 1980s but gave it up when he discovered what he calls a God-given talent for writing songs.

"I would sit at the kitchen table," he said, "And I would bang on the table these generic beats, and I would write, write, write … write every single day."

He made a demo tape, and after being turned away from every label, he formed his own, Roc-A-Fella records. He released his first album in 1996 and went on to produce an unrivaled string of multiplatinum hits, making hip-hop history.

In his personal life, he's been involved for three years with superstar Beyoncé. He doesn't discuss their relationship but told Walters that she's a "great person."

And when asked if he thought Beyoncé was "bootylicious," he said "yeah, yeah, yeah."

The secret to his success? Jay-Z says it's "truth."

"That transcends race, age, anything. People understand truth ... and you can see that in my music."

Generally, the list of most-fascinating people excludes those who have died, but this year an exception was made for the "Crocodile Hunter," through his remarkable and fascinating widow, Terri Irwin.

When Terri visited Australia in 1991, fate stepped in. She described the moment when she first saw Steve Irwin in a reptile park, catching a crocodile, as "amazing."

"I fell then and there … love at first sight. I thought then, 'Oh, this guy, this is the one for me. He's amazing.'"

It was instant animal attraction, and within the year, they were married. For their honeymoon, naturally, they went on a crocodile expedition, inviting a camera crew along. That honeymoon became the first episode of Animal Planet's "The Crocodile Hunter."

Work, life and love intertwined seamlessly. They had two children: Bindi, now 8, and Bob, now 3, and included them in the show. Steve's family's zoo grew to be a major conservation center, and a second home for the children. On screen and off, Steve seemed invincible.

Barbara Walters asked Irwin if she ever worried about her husband's dangerous work.

"Neither of us ever worried about the wildlife," Terri Irwin said. "I worried about any time we were apart. We felt, if we were together, we would be OK."

This September, Terri and Steve weren't together. She was traveling with the children and he was filming off the Great Barrier Reef, when a sting ray's barb pierced his heart. Steve Irwin was killed at the age of 44. Shocked fans watched his memorial service, which was broadcast around the world.

Terri Irwin told Walters that she had lost her prince.

"You know what I'll miss the most -- and it's very selfish -- he was fun. Steve was fun. He taught me that it's OK to play ... in the rain," she said, choking up. "And splash in my puddle. And let the kids … get dirty. He didn't sweat the little stuff. He saw the big picture. And he had fun! Now I'm going to work really hard at having fun again."

She could have made the list most any year, but this year was tailormade for her, since she was reputedly the inspiration for the hit film "The Devil Wears Prada."

In the world of fashion, everything changes, except for Anna Wintour and her power. For two decades, the 57-year-old Wintour has reigned over the Vogue magazine empire. But when it comes to fashion, Wintour told Walters that style doesn't necessarily mean couture:

"Jeans and T-shirts can be equally fashionable as an Oscar de la Renta ball gown," she said.

Wintour was born in London, her father the editor of a major newspaper. When she was 25 years old, she arrived in America, eventually landing the top job at Vogue.

Meryl Streep's brilliant performance as a tough fashion editor in this year's hit film "The Devil Wears Prada" was supposedly based on Wintour, and Wintour told Walters she thought the film was "really entertaining.

"Anything that makes fashion entertaining and glamorous and interesting is wonderful for our industry. So I was 100 percent behind it," she said.

Wintour also said she identified with Streep's portrayal of the "decisive" editor.

"I think it's actually helpful to people that you are working with, that you can make decisions," she said. "So, if Meryl seemed somewhat strong, I respect that."

"The Devil Wears Prada" was one of the hits of the summer, and "Borat" was without question one of the hits of the fall. Some find "Borat" offensive, but the movie -- and its star, Sacha Baron Cohen -- became a sensation.

In just two months, "Borat" has earned more than $200 million dollars worldwide, and has made Sacha Baron Cohen the hottest and most controversial man in comedy.

The film has also offended nearly every social group on two continents and left audiences wondering what's real and what's staged. Many also wonder about the man behind the movie.

Sacha Baron Cohen is certainly not "Borat," the anti-Semitic TV reporter from Kazakhstan. Cohen is from an English orthodox Jewish family, but he is determined to remain a mystery and only gave interviews in character.

Cohen says it's all satire, so the question is: 'Who will he be next?'

This coming Christmas marks one decade since 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was murdered, and this year brought a new tragedy and renewed attention to the nightmare that, it seems, will never go away for her father, John Ramsey.

Although a grand jury refused to indict the Ramseys for lack of evidence, the suspicions never went away. Ramsey said there are probably people who still feel that he or his wife committed the crime.

"It's hard to ever change that perception in some people's minds," Ramsey said. "I think we have to live with that."

The 10-year ordeal was not the first heartbreak for Ramsey. Three years before JonBenet's murder, his daughter, Beth, from his first marriage, was killed in a car accident. The year after, his wife Patsy was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

"This certainly isn't the script for my life that I would've written," he said. "But I think everyone carries a burden in life."

This summer, it seemed like part of Ramsey's burden might be lifted. John Mark Karr, a 41-year-old American, teaching school in Thailand, confessed to killing JonBenet.

But only weeks later, charges against Karr were dropped, when his DNA did not match samples from the crime scene.

Ramsey told Walters he didn't want to get his hopes up, "even though it was easy to let that happen.

"Ironically, at one point, I started feeling sorry for the guy, 'cause he was being convicted, basically, as we were, early on. And I thought, 'Boy, that's a funny emotion to have,' but I did."

Patsy Ramsey lost her long battle with cancer in June, and Ramsey said it was his faith that got him through.

"Because of my faith I, I know the end of the story. I will be in heaven and … I know I'll be reunited with Patsy and JonBenet and Beth and, and, I'm not ready to go yet. I've still got some things to do here and … I'm not afraid of that."

The next person on this list is the "McDreamy" star of one of the hottest shows on television, "Grey's Anatomy."

But Patrick Dempsey isn't letting success go to his head. He has seen it all before, and he knows that success -- like beauty -- can be skin deep.

But like Anna Wintour, Dempsey gets a lot of questions about … his hair.

"Everybody teases me about it," he joked. "And I tease myself about it. It's a lot to manage. It's quite difficult to keep it controlled."

But it's more than his hair that keeps viewers tuning in: It's his vulnerability, sensitivity and boyish innocence that first made him a star almost 20 years ago in the '80s classic "Can't Buy Me Love."

But stardom was short-lived, and Dempsey said that makes him appreciate what he has now. Next month, he gets his movie star status back with Hilary Swank in "Freedom Writers," and offscreen, he is married to hairstylist Jillian Fink. They have a 4-year-old daughter, Tallulah, and are expecting twin boys this spring.

Dempsey told Walters that being a heartthrob is better the second time around.

"I prefer this age … I don't think you care as much … I have had the alternative, and that's not any fun at all."

And the Most Fascinating Person of 2006? Walters revealed her choice on the special, and taking the top spot was the most fascinating person on election night this past November: Nancy Pelosi.

In January, Pelosi will become the most powerful woman in America, the first female Speaker of the House. She told Walters that becoming the first female Speaker "really is big:"

"The response that we have gotten from all over the country, from fathers and daughters, from just everyone, has been tremendous," she said.

And she had this to say about how she sees herself:

"Well, first of all, I would describe myself as a wife and mother. And grandmotherbut now I like Speaker of the House."

We asked you to vote for who you thought was most fascinating person this year. We received more than 8,000 votes, and more than 4,000 of you thought it was Barack Obama. Nancy Pelosi came in second, in a virtual tie with Stephen Colbert.