DENVER — This could be the first Democratic Convention in 40 years without an appearance by Edward Kennedy, who has done more to rouse, amuse, tease and just plain fascinate these quadrennial gatherings than any living politician.

"He's been a vital part of every convention since 1972," says Phil Johnston, a convention delegate and former Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman. "It's very poignant now to think where we've come after so many years."

Kennedy, whose immune system has been weakened by treatment for brain cancer, is scheduled to be honored in absentia tonight.

There's still a chance the 76-year-old senator will attend, his son, U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, said Sunday.