Renowned TV producer David L. Wolper died last month. He oversaw the production of more than 300 films that have won more than 150 awards, including two Oscars, 50 Emmys and five Peabody Awards. And in the world of special events, Wolper was in charge of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Highlights included a jetpack-powered “astronaut” who soared above the crowd, and 84 pianists in white tuxedos playing “Rhapsody in Blue” on white grand pianos. Wolper's work has been widely credited with raising the standards for Olympics ceremonies ever since.

As the whole world got goose bumps watching the '84 ceremonies, special event professionals were paying extra attention. The '84 spectacles served as a touchstone for many in special events, a profession that was just coming into its own.

As Cindy Symans-Hassel of Tarzana, Calif.-based S & R Events told Special Events in 2002, the '84 Olympics ceremonies “closed a gap between theatrical productions and special events that existed up to that time.” As a result, she said, “Instead of thinking small-scale, we created total event environments, and crossed over a multitude of mixed media and technical applications from other industries to do so.”

If anything is proof of the growth of special events since the mid-1980s, it's our annual list of the 50 biggest event planning companies, which appears in this issue. With so many exciting sporting events on the world stage over the past year — including the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and the FIFA World Cup in South Africa — event professionals have been center stage, creating events both public and private tied to sports. Read more, starting on page 25.

One of the most striking testaments to Wolper's Olympics work is the comment that Peter Ueberroth, president of the 1984 Olympic organizing committee, made to the Los Angeles Times: “Not until the Beijing Games in 2008 has anybody rivaled what he did as a volunteer and with a low budget.” The challenge of creating great events without great money goes on; read how major fundraisers are grappling with budget challenges in our cover story, starting on page 31.

You might work for one of the big event planning powerhouses or you might be a powerhouse of one. But in the tradition of David Wolper, the sheer power of your creativity can make your events unforgettable.