Dec. 8, 2004 — -- A pitcher in Boston who put an end to a legendary sports curse. A software engineer from Utah who won a record-breaking game show purse. Barbara Walters looks back at 2004 with 10 of the most fascinating people of the year.
Call him a Republican hero or a Rasputin, Karl Rove is, perhaps, the second-most powerful man in the nation. He got the nod as Walters' most fascinating person of 2004. The veteran political operative is credited with masterminding President Bush's winning re-election strategy.
Rove spent his whole life dedicated to politics. He left college early to start running campaigns. He attended four universities, but never graduated. Even if he had completed his degree, Rove says, he would not seek public office himself. "After seeing as many people run for office, I'm not willing to make the sacrifice myself," he told Walters.
Rove met Bush in the 1990s, when the would-be president was one of the amiable owners of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Bush had never been elected to office, but Rove saw a man with natural political instincts. Rove managed Bush's successful bid for the Texas governorship and has been with him ever since.
Rove said this year's strategy was to focus on three main issues -- "the war in Iraq, the values and the economy" -- and to get out the vote. Rove said the Bush team had some 1.5 million volunteers in the final days of the campaign and had made some 14 million phone calls to encourage voters to get to the polls.
Walters asked Rove whether he sees a sharply divided America. He said divisions come out in the course of a campaign, but resolve after the election. "America goes through a process," he said, "where we get strong feelings about the presidential elections. We elect somebody and the country comes together."
Taking risks is one of Mel Gibson's trademarks. As an actor he's played tough guys and pushovers. As a director he took on the $72 million epic "Braveheart."
But making "The Passion of the Christ" was his biggest risk of all. The film had no stars, dialogue entirely in ancient Latin and Aramaic, and cost Gibson $25 million of his own money. But, true to form, the risk paid off. The film earned more than $500 million at the box office.
"Nobody wanted to touch something in two dead languages," Gibson told Walters. "They think I'm insane ... And maybe I am."
Larry Page and Sergey Brin are not your typical billionaires. In fact, if you type billionaire into Google, the picture that emerges -- fancy cars, private jets, mansions, jewels, supermodel girlfriends -- isn't anything you'd find in the lifestyle of the Google guys. Page drives a Prius, which costs around $21,000. Brin gets around for the most part on in-line skates, and he still lives in a rented apartment.
Since taking Google public earlier this year, each is worth an estimated $6 billion. Even the way they took their company public was innovative. They let ordinary people bid on shares in their initial public offering, not just the big banks, because they thought it was fairer.
In fact, they see their work as more of a vocation than as a means of getting rich. "We feel like we're making a difference in the world -- giving people information that they want really quickly and effectively," Page said.
World Series-winning Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling arrived for his interview two days after ankle surgery and in a wheelchair. He did not believe in the curse said to have shrouded the Boston Red Sox since 1918. He did, however, think there was a curse of talent.
It was his first year pitching for the Red Sox and Schilling admitted he was scared to death to go on the pitching mound. He told Walters, "Fear of failure is a tremendous motivator for people that have achieved things in their lives ... fear of getting beat, getting embarrassed. I have so much respect for the game and the guys that I suit up with. And you want their respect at the end of day."
Controversial filmmaker Michael Moore stirred the political pot with his film "Fahrenheit 9/11," the highest-grossing documentary film ever made. He attributes the film's success to people's hunger for information. "I think people are hungry for information, and they're not getting it, even though we have 24-hour cable news, and what I try to do in my films is give them information and a viewpoint that they are not getting in the mainstream media," he tells Walters.
He says he thinks his film may have swayed independent voters or undecided Democrats to vote for John Kerry in the presidential race, but acknowledged it did little to win over Bush supporters. "The film probably contributed to a much larger turnout amongst people who were inclined to vote for Kerry. Obviously, it just wasn't enough people," he said.
Moore told Walters he was devastated when Kerry lost to George W. Bush. "I wasn't happy, I'll tell you that," he said. "I rolled out of bed three days later."
Moore says Democrats need to find a likable Hollywood candidate to run for national office. "Where is our Ronald Reagan? Where is our Arnold Schwarzenegger? Americans love Hollywood. They love celebrities. And, and we have to start running some of our own. ... Tom Hanks. Who wouldn't vote for Tom Hanks?"
R&B superstar Usher made history this year by selling more records than any other artist. He grew up in the South singing in a church choir. With the guidance of his mother, who is also his manager, he garnered four No. 1 hit singles this year and won more than 25 awards. Usher confided to Walters about his relationship with Chili Thomas from T.L.C.
He acknowledged that he cheated on Thomas but says the songs on his album "Confessions" aren't all autobiographical. "It's just a coincidence and timing. Some of it is real, I can't say all of it," he said.
Heiress and reality TV star Paris Hilton also had a tumultuous year. Her book made The New York Times' best-seller list, she had a hit TV show and her celebrity was taken to another level with a scandalous private videotape.
Hilton told Walters why she believes the public finds her so fascinating. "I think because at such a young age, I've accomplished so much. I have a book out on The New York Times best-sellers list. I'm doing an album. I have movies. And I don't know I think just people see me all the time so they think it's like a fantasy life," she said.
And the infamous sex tape? Walters asked Hilton what she was thinking.
"I was in a relationship for a couple of years. I was in love with him and people I think do that sometimes. And I never thought that it would get out and that I'd be hurt like that. ... It was one of the hardest things that's ever happened in my life and humiliating, but because of it I became a better person," she said.
This is the year that Oprah Winfrey turned 50. She has continued to inspire young and old alike, and believes that she was born at the right time to do great things.
She shares with Walters the personal choices she has made, especially not becoming a mother. "I do feel in many ways that the world's children, the community's children, are my children," she said. "I feel I can be a voice for children who don't or are not allowed to speak for themselves."
Real estate mogul Donald Trump was already famous when his reality show "The Apprentice" premiered earlier this year. Now he's hotter than ever, and joining him in his interview with Walters is his bride-to-be, Melania Knauss, who extols Trump's modesty: "He's a great man. He should live forever."
Has Trump ever heard the two-word tag line that leaves "Apprentice" contestants crushed? "I am not bragging. My father was a very tough guy. And I did a great job for him. And he knew it. And he totally relied on me. And he knew it. And he knew how good I was. I had done a really good job. So no, I have never been fired," he said.
On Nov. 30, Ken Jennings was dethroned as the reigning king of "Jeopardy!" But he had a record-breaking 75 appearances on the show, winning more than $2.5 million.
Jennings told Walters there's no real way to cram for "Jeopardy!" Although, as a teetotaler, he admits he had his wife quiz him on types of cocktails.
"I'm not someone who sits at home and reads almanacs," he said. "I think I just tend to be curious about the world around me and when I hear something I don't know about for the first time, it just sort of fascinates me and makes me want to learn more."