The Last Tycoon

If you had asked me a year ago—if you had asked me three months ago—I would have bet my house that Boone Pickens would not be on this month’s cover. Not that his previous time as our cover subject wasn’t memorable: Joe Nocera, then a Texas Monthly associate editor and now a beloved New York Times columnist, wrote about the audacious oilman as rapacious deal maker in 1982 as he traveled to Wall Street and other financial capitals to learn them Yankees a thing about bidness. When I reread Nocera’s piece recently, I was struck by his portrait of his undeniably compelling subject: “He gives an impression of ordinariness. He does not exude charisma. He favors unostentatious business suits and shuns accoutrements like flashy rings and cowboy boots. At 54, he is obviously in good physical condition, but no one would ever mistake him for a 35-year-old: the hair around his ears is graying, and his face is lined with the creases of his age. His jowls sag. From certain angles, he bears a striking resemblance to our most uncharismatic president, Jimmy Carter. Being a Republican of the hard-rock variety, Pickens finds the comparison odious.”

Much of that description amounts to an apt picture of Boone today. He’s older, of course. Now eighty, he’s a little grayer and a little saggier, but he’s still as energetic and peripatetic as ever, as executive editor Skip Hollandsworth reports in his own winning profile of the lion in what no longer appears to be winter (“ There Will Be Boone ”). And at least a smidgen of doubt has been cast on Boone’s status as a hard-rock Republican. In the past few weeks, as he’s once again traveled the country, this time to sell the Pickens Plan, his much-publicized proposal to end America’s addiction to foreign oil, he’s sounded more like a soft-rock Democrat (although he insists he won’t vote for Barack Obama in November).

Temperamentally, however, he’s still ol’ Boone, as he might refer to himself. “He continues to be one of those people who’s happiest when he’s doing a deal,” says Nocera, who features Boone in a big way in his latest book, Good Guys and Bad Guys: Behind the Scenes With the Saints and Scoundrels of American Business (and Everything In Between). “He’s not afraid to think big thoughts. Part of his appeal is that he’s always trying to roll giant rocks uphill. He doesn’t want to kick any pebbles.”

It was that rolling of the rocks—as manifested in Boone’s evolution from unapologetic capitalist to, well, unapologetic capitalist with a sudden, unquenchable desire to do good—that caught our attention and ultimately caused us to jettison our planned Tony Romo cover in favor of one featuring the iconic wildcatter. (That Boone’s latest turn as a media darling coincides with the release of his new memoir, The First Billion Is the Hardest, is surely an accident, right? Aw, who cares? Whatever else he’s doing it for, it ain’t the money.) There’s something seemingly contrary about our logic. Throwing over a young, good-looking tabloid mainstay for some old dude with a turbine fetish isn’t exactly a safe newsstand bet (although with gas at four bucks a gallon and oil at one hundred twenty bucks a barrel, you’ll forgive us for thinking that the fate of the play-caller for the Dallas Cowboys takes a backseat). Then again, our last Boone cover story was a big seller. For all we know—and surely hope—this one will be too.

Next Month

>Matthew McConaughey, bees, a prosecutor who won’t prosecute, a State Board of Education quiz, and the controversy over offshore oil drilling.

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