A lot of people with larger-than-life reputations passed on in 2007. The arts, politics and science lost many bright lights. So it is every year. But the question shouldn't be "Who left?" but "Whose life will make a difference?" Many names in American history that people lionize today would likely startle their peers. Who could know, in the 19th century, that a spinster from Amherst, Mass., would have more influence on modern poetry than all the thundering volumes of Oliver Wendell Holmes and Sidney Lanier? Who knew that an upstart religious leader from upstate New York would have so much sway in the 2007 presidential race?

So who will rise and who will fade in the decades to come?

Authors Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. died in 2007. They were, in a sense, the Herman Melville and Mark Twain of their day. And there's no doubt which author people prefer today between Twain and Melville. Will Vonnegut's humor, felicity of language and pinpoint accuracy about human nature vault him into the realm of the immortals while Mailer dwindles? Stay tuned.

Today everyone knows the name Anna Nicole Smith, the star-crossed celebrity. But not many can place the name Anita Roddick, the mother of "green consumerism." Would we be surprised by which name is still around in 2027?

French mime Marcel Marceau went mum in 2007. So did Luciano Pavarotti, whose sterling silver tenor was enough voice for both of them. In 2027, will people wish they'd made more of an effort to hear Pavarotti in person when they had the chance?

Boris Yeltsin and Kurt Waldheim may end up as historical afterthoughts. But already Benazir Bhutto — like Martin Luther King Jr. and Steve Biko before her — seems to be a martyr for the ages for justice and freedom.

In the end, the real concern isn't "Who died?" but "Who will live?"

Death comes for everyone, including the archbishop and Archie Bunker. Legendary status is conferred on but a few. They are the ones whose lives continue to inform and enhance future generations with a sense of hope, a sense of worth and a sense of what it means to be alive and human.