1. Who are the most influential people in history?
They are the 25 most influential people of the past 25 years — those who changed our
world, transformed technology, mapped the human body and affected the way we
relate to one another.
Bill Gates (AP)
1 Bill Gates, software entrepreneur
His Microsoft software shaped the way millions use the technology that has
transformed communications and commerce — making him the world’s richest man
and, now, a leading philanthropist.
Ronald Reagan (AFP)
2Ronald Reagan, 40th U.S. president
Elected in 1980 and re-elected in 1984, he put the United States on a more
conservative course, restored buoyancy and confidence in the presidency and forged a
partnership with a reformist Soviet leader that helped end the Cold War.
Oprah Winfrey (AP)
3Oprah Winfrey, talk show host
As a talk-show host, first at WLS-TV’s AM Chicago in 1984, she pioneered a form of
intimate public discourse that brought taboo subjects into the open and sparked a
confessional, self-help culture.
Dr. Craig Venter, left (USA TODAY); Dr. Francis Collins, right (GNS)
4&5Francis Collins & J. Craig Venter, mappers of the human genome
The Human Genome Project headed by Collins and a parallel private effort by Celera
Genomics under Venter jointly announced the mapping of the human genome in 2000,
opening the door to breakthroughs in identifying, treating and preventing the world’s
most feared diseases.
Osama bin Laden (AP)
6Osama bin Laden, terrorist
For most Americans, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, by the al-Qaeda network he leads
marked the beginning of a global battle against radical Islamists 12 years after the fall
of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Cold War.
Stephen Hawking (USA TODAY)
7Stephen Hawking, physicist
In the tradition of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, he explored the nature of the
universe. He popularized science, wrote the best-selling A Brief History of Time in
1988 and remains a puckish personality despite being severely disabled by Lou
Lance Armstrong (AP)
8Lance Armstrong, cyclist and cancer activist
He won a record-breaking seven consecutive Tour de France races, cycling’s most
prestigious event, after battling testicular cancer. Sales of his iconic quot;Livestrongquot;
wristbands have raised millions of dollars to help fight cancer.
Pope John Paul II (AFP)
9Pope John Paul II, pontiff
Polish-born Karol Jozef Wojtyla helped propel a peaceful revolution in Poland in
1989 that ended Soviet domination and reverberated through Eastern Europe. In a 26-
year papacy, he defined the Roman Catholic Church’s role in modern times.
10Bono, rock musician and activist for Africa
Born Paul Hewson, the lead singer of the Irish rock band U2 has shrewdly pressed
world leaders to forgive third-world debt and address the AIDS pandemic in Africa.
Mikhail Gorbachev (AFP)
11Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet leader
The last leader of the Soviet Union, from 1985 to 1991, he introduced economic and
political reforms — glasnost and perestroika — and forged a partnership with an anti-
Communist U.S. president. On Gorbachev’s watch, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet
Larry Page, left, and Sergey Brin (AP)
12&13Sergey Brin & Larry Page, co-founders of Google
After meeting as doctoral students at Stanford in 1995, they devised a way to organize
information on the Internet by analyzing relationships between websites. Google is
now the Web’s most-used search engine — so familiar it’s become a verb.
George W. Bush (Reuters)
14George W. Bush, 43rd president
Taking office after a 5-4 Supreme Court decision settled the 2000 election, he led
America’s response to the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and ordered the invasion of Iraq in
2003 — enmeshing the USA in its longest war since Vietnam.
Sam Walton (AP)
15Sam Walton, retailing pioneer
A farm boy from Oklahoma who started with Walton's Five and Dime in Bentonville,
Ark., he relied on high volume and low markups to build the world's biggest retailer
— and swamp the competiton.
Deng Xiaoping (Xinhua)
16Deng Xiaoping, Chinese leader
The de facto leader of China from 1978 into the 1990s, he opened the nation to global
markets and economic modernization through “socialism with Chinese
characteristics” — and cracked down on Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989.
Kirthmon Dozier (AP)
17Michael Jordan, basketball star
Arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, mostly for the Chicago Bulls, his
athletic leaps and slam dunks influenced a generation of players. With a likeable
persona, he also led all leagues in lucrative endorsements.
Howard Schultz (AP)
18Howard Schultz, Starbucks entrepreneur
A poor kid from Brooklyn who wanted to replicate Italian espresso bars, he cultivated
a chain of coffeehouses that have influenced many Americans’ daily habits and taste
buds much as Ray Kroc’s McDonalds did a generation earlier.
Nelson Mandela (USA TODAY)
19Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid leader
Released in 1990 after 27 years in prison, he preached reconciliation and was the first
elected president of a fully democratic South Africa.
J.K. Rowling (AP)
20J.K. Rowling, author
The first Harry Potter book, completed in 1995 and initially rejected by several
publishing houses, launched a seven-volume series that absorbed children and adults
in complicated fantasies spanning thousands of pages.
Hillary and Bill Clinton (AP)
21&22Bill & Hillary Clinton, 42nd president & N.Y. senator
He was the first Democrat elected to two terms in the White House since FDR, then
survived impeachment. She went from wronged wife to New York senator to the most
viable female presidential contender in U.S. history.
Russell Simmons (USA TODAY)
23Russell Simmons, hip-hop pioneer
He helped popularize a distinctively American form of music — co-founding the hip-
hop label Def Jam — that has influenced mainstream pop culture, from music to
dance to dress, since the mid-1980s.
Ryan White (USA TODAY)
24Ryan White, the face of AIDS
The 13-year-old hemophiliac from Kokomo, Ind., was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984,
then banned from attending his public middle school. A human face for a stigmatized
disease, he died in 1990.
20th Century Fox
25Homer Simpson, Everyman
The doughy star of TV’s The Simpsons epitomized the irony and irreverence at the
core of American humor — the same force that’s helped make The Daily Show’s Jon
Stewart a major source of news for young people.