The 50 Most Influential Boomers

SPIELBERG Mythmaker, b. 1947. He's our Homer and our Hans Christian Andersen, an epic fairy-tale-maker with a Midas touch. His films, from E.T. to Schindler's List, show us that the human spirit is alive in the most unlikely places--in a creature from outer space or a Nazi concentration camp. His heroes, fueled by a curiosity bigger than they are (think of Richard Dreyfuss trying to find celestial significance in a pile of mashed potatoes), charm us into opening our hearts and our wallets. Four of the 10 top-grossing movies of all time--E.T., Jurassic Park, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark--were directed by this film-school reject. A self-described Peter Pan, he lives every boomer's secret dream: He never has to wear a tie.

JOBS Cyberpioneer, b. 1955. He launched the personal-computer revolution by mass-marketing a home computer that his hacker buddy Stephen Wozniak had built in a California garage. He called it Apple, and he kept polishing it, staying ahead of the field, until there was Macintosh. He lost control of the company in 1985 but walked away with more than $100 million. Recently he showed us the fruit of another venture: the first computer-animated feature film, Toy Story.

CLINTON First Boomer, b. 1946. He has a mind-set that mirrors his generation's social liberalism and fiscal conservatism. And while he never inhaled, he blew his saxophone on late-night TV, convincing fellow boomers he was one of them. The first of his generation to reach the Oval Office, he has the most powerful job in America. But he's not on top of this list because, like his generation, he hasn't yet delivered.

MILKEN Alchemist, b. 1946. He turned junk into gold as a charismatic bond salesman for Drexel Burnham in the merger-mad '80s. For helping leveraged buyout artists raise capital through the sale of high-risk securities, he was richly rewarded: One year alone he made $550 million. But thousands of laid-off workers, victims of the current craze for corporate downsizing, are also part of his legacy. In 1989, two years after a Wall Street crash many say he helped precipitate, he was charged with insider trading. The two years he spent in prison offered the Gold Card generation a lesson about greed.

OPRAH Teletherapist, b. 1954. "There's never been a generation as fascinated by itself as the boomers," says writer Paul Rudnick, which explains this pop psychologist's success to a T-bill: Every day as many as 20 million people lie on their couches to watch themselves be analyzed, making her the highest-paid woman in showbiz--and an inspiration to a generation of African American women.

Our Einstein, b. 1951. The most influential theoretical physicist in the world, according to many of his colleagues, he has given new life to the string theory, which proposes that the universe is made up of vibrating strings, not particles. It may be the answer to everything "from light to lightning bugs, from gravity to gold," The New York Times exclaimed. At 39, this professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., won the Fields Medal, mathematics' equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

GATES He Does Windows, b. 1955. The poster boy for the ultimate boomer fantasy, he dropped out of Harvard and still became a billionaire 15 times over. Now the richest man in America, this Microsoft wunderkind pulled off the deal of the '80s: He licensed his MS-DOS operating system to IBM and remained free to cash in on the expanding clone market. Since then his Windows program has become the software through which most of us see.

Televisionary, b. 1953. Entertainment-industry giant David Geffen once told him that someday everybody would work for him. Well, it's 15 years since Pittman launched MTV, and although we don't all work for him, his influence is everywhere. At first we fought the idea that our attention span, already of sitcom length, could be abbreviated further. Now news and entertainment alike come to us via a video montage of fast cuts and short pans--all this from a kid who dropped out of college not once but four times.

JORDAN Amazing Grace, b. 1963. He has what may be the most recognizable face on the planet. Not only is he the greatest basketball player who ever lived, but he's also the world's No. 1 sports-marketing phenomenon. Children everywhere want to "be like Mike"--or, at the very least, own a pair of his sneakers. He's so huge he has to pinch himself: Nike, he says, has turned him into "a dream."

ROSEANNE Blue-Collar Royalty, b. 1953. "I'm the queen of my generation," she told LIFE, with typical boomer modesty. In fact, the working-class family she has presided over for eight seasons on ABC has no TV peer. Her kids aren't perky Bradys or impish Cleavers; they smoke, swear, take drugs and have sex, just like real people. And she's no Donna Reed; she's premenstrual all month long. In real life this high school dropout from Salt Lake City is just as exceptional, grabbing her crotch after singing the national anthem at a baseball game, consulting on an issue of The New Yorker and making sure to keep reporters apprised of her latest tattoos.


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