The first big breakdown of 2000 turns out to be the marriage of billionaire Ted Turner and actress Jane Fonda, who announced yesterday that they are separating.

The "ultimate power couple," who celebrated their eighth anniversary two weeks ago, released a joint statement: "While we continue to be committed to the long-term success of our marriage, we find ourselves at a juncture where we must each take some personal time for ourselves. Therefore, we have mutually decided to spend some time apart."

There was the usual call for respect, presumably a faint hope for privacy, and the certainty that the media will deconstruct every nuance of the troubled marriage. Odds on the "long-term success"--given the decision to make their separation public--are not glowing.

Which is all a pity, for a number of reasons. One cannot help but feel an extra twinge for Jane. If any of the reports are true, Fonda reinvented herself--becoming the perfect trophy wife--for the brash, brilliant founder of CNN.

"I am the luckiest human being in the world," she told InStyle magazine in 1996.

Many women play Barbie until they grow up and decide a perfect body and an adoring gaze are not the secret to a perfect union. Fonda started as Barbarella, morphed into an anti-war activist, Oscar-winning actress, fitness guru and then celebrity spouse, complete with an impressive set of new breasts and the full-time role of Mrs. Turner.

"Ted is not a man that you leave to go on location," she explained. "He needs you there all the time."

This was the third marriage for Turner, 61, and Fonda, 62, and one that looked as if it would last. The two wed on Dec. 21, 1991, which was Fonda's 54th birthday. Less than a year later, she had moved to Atlanta and said she was giving up an acting and business career of 30 years to devote more time to her husband.

"Yes, I'm in love," she told the Associated Press. "I won't be in movies anymore. I walked away with nary a glance back."

Turner also claimed he was a changed man: "From male chauvinist to being totally in favor of equal sharing of power and responsibility, I'm going to be a totally different kind of husband this time. This will be my last one. Hopefully."

It was Turner who pursued the Hollywood legend after her divorce from Tom Hayden. It was easy to see her appeal for him: another star acquisition for his global empire. She apparently adored his Southern charm and attention. "Turner knows how to treat a lady," said an old friend of Fonda's. "It's that old-fashioned Southern kind of stuff--gifts and caring. Tom was not good at all that. Ted's got that--he's very open in public."

Predictably, the media went nuts over the power matchup. Laura Lee Turner, the eldest of Turner's five children, told Esquire magazine, "My father and Jane would make a great president and first lady."

Fonda founded the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, and began to talk about self-esteem and her inner life. In a speech to teenage girls in 1998, Fonda said she still had "a ways to go before I can feel happy with myself," but said meeting Turner had changed her life.

The spotlight continued to glare on Turner, with a smiling Fonda at his side: In 1997, he contributed $1 billion to the United Nations for programs addressing women's health and population control. A year later, he said that he was "very serious about running for president, but Jane doesn't want me to do it."

Fonda's response? "Wherever Ted goes, I go."

But, despite all the changes, Fonda continued to be a political liability. Millions of conservatives never forgave her "Hanoi Jane" position during Vietnam. And she was forced to apologize after saying that parts of Georgia resembled a Third World country. "Maybe the view from your penthouse apartment is not as clear as it needs to be," scolded then-Gov. Zell Miller.

All was not perfect at home, either. Fonda reportedly was upset about her husband's nonstop schedule, and there were veiled reports of other women. In 1998, Turner admitted the two had been to a marriage counselor. "Jane wants me to become a saint--but I'm not."

Early last year, Turner joked that the prohibition against adultery should be removed from the Ten Commandments.

Rumors floated all year that the marriage was over. The New York Post reported that divorce lawyers were in the picture, despite the fact that the couple appeared hand-in-hand at public appearances. In May 1999, the couple released a statement saying they were "extremely happy together."

Two months ago, the two traveled to Africa, where Fonda told reporters, "I have no more career. I have no more things I used to do. I am totally focused on children and adolescent pregnancy."

See Jane. See Jane run. What will Jane become next?

CAPTION: Jane Fonda went from film director-husband Roger Vadim's "Barbarella" to

CAPTION: Ted Turner and Jane Fonda at the Oscars in 1997, after she quit show business. "Ted is not a man that you leave to go on location," Fonda said.