A Fascinating Group

ByABC News
December 7, 2004, 4:23 PM

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.