Hugo Chavez's 14 years as president of Venezuela were so personality-driven that the movement behind him became known as "Chavismo."
Chavismo encompasses not just the political machine that saw Chavez re-elected four times, but a leftist ideology that prioritized the redistribution of oil wealth to the marginalized and valued sovereignty as something to be protected from "imperialist" powers.
Now, with its leader gone, the future of Chavismo could take many paths, experts say. Other powerful leaders in history who left a similar hole have seen their ideologies live on, though not without change.
There is a trade-off between the degree to which a government centers on one person and the strength of that country's institutions, said Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at Amherst College who studies Venezuela. In general, the stronger the central figure, the weaker the institutions.
"In authoritarian regimes, you always have a crisis moment when you see a change in leadership," Corrales said.
Chavez was democratically elected, but his efforts to consolidate power in the presidency led to accusations of authoritarianism.
Change is inevitable after the loss of a revered leader, but the degree of transformation varies.
In Yugoslavia in the period after World War II until 1980, Josip Broz Tito succeeded in keeping the various ethnic groups in his country united. Despite being considered an authoritarian, he remained popular because of the unity and economic success. Upon his death, however, the country unraveled and fell into civil war, and Yugoslavia crumbled, eventually splitting into separate nations.
After Joseph Stalin died in the Soviet Union, there was a complete break with his regime under the new leader, Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev rejected Stalin's terror tactics.
Change in Cuba was more subtle after the passing of the torch from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul Castro, Corrales said. The Castros share their communist views, but after the younger Castro took office, he purged some men and has since pursued policies to somewhat open up Cuba.
Venezuelan interim President Nicolas Maduro is expected to vie for the full-time job, and analysts predict he has the best shot at getting elected.
If elected, Maduro eventually will have to purge some of the Chavez loyalists and shake up the Cabinet to consolidate his own power, Corrales said.
"Whoever comes next is going to have to assert himself in a pretty domineering way," he said.
The lasting power of Chavez's image
Chavez's dedication to putting the nation's poor at the forefront of his policies made him a hero among a large sector of the population. His freewheeling spending of his nation's oil wealth was criticized by some economists as unsustainable, but Venezuela's poor saw results and elevated Chavez to hero status.
In Latin America, such status carries a lot of weight.
Consider a movement in Nicaragua that has survived over the years: Sandinismo. Augusto Sandino was the leader of a rebellion in the late 1920s and early 1930s against an American occupation. The Sandinistas are in power today in Nicaragua, under President Daniel Ortega, though the movement has little to do with its origins, said Andres Perez, a professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario.
Sandino's memory has been manipulated for political purposes over time, just like Chavez's might.
Years after Sandino was killed, Nicaraguans used his image as a symbol in their own rebellion to overthrow a dictatorship. A movement, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, was born. The current Sandinista president uses the same symbol and movement, though it has been manipulated from earlier Sandinismo, Perez said.
"When people find a symbol or answer to their aspirations, they tend to perpetuate it," Perez said.
In the case of Chavismo, it is difficult to predict what will happen the movement as a political movement, Perez said.
"But what I can say is that the memory of Chavez will last. It will be very difficult to erase it from the poor sector of Venezuela who found answers in the image and words of Chavez," he said.
Millions of Venezuelans found hope in Chavez, and now the question is who will appropriate his image and how will they use it, Perez said. Conceivably, even the opposition could take aspects of Chavez's legacy and make it their own, he said.
Already during last year's electoral campaign, the opposition vowed not to undo the social missions that Chavez initiated, but only to modify them.
The director of the polling firm Datanalisis, Luis Vicente Leon, predicted something similar in a series of Twitter posts before Chavez died.