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DECEMBER 20, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 24

The Best People of 1999

Ricky: Living La Vida Loca

Kevork Djansezian/AP

1 Ricky Martin In the States at least, la vida loca began on Grammy night, when Martin's sizzling, swivel-hipped performance sparked wolfish admiration from Sting's wife (sitting next to Sting), an offer to duet with Madonna and a mania for Latin music that shot the former Menudo member's reputation into the global stratosphere. His eponymous English-language debut has sold nearly 4 million copies and produced the summer's rave-up anthem. His chiseled looks and a mammoth marketing campaign have turned out something else: the hottest Latino star since the Ricky loved by a certain Lucy.

2 Pikachu The most beloved animated character since Hello Kitty has turned the world's children into grinning, grabbing Pokémaniacs. This electric-yellow runt is just one of more than 150 "pocket monsters." But he's the public face of a phenomenon that has spread from Nintendo's fastest selling video game to a trading-card empire that has racked up $300 million in sales this year and a feature film that grossed more than $50 million in its first five days in U.S. theaters. Adults may not understand the critters, but they can't stop paying for them.

3 Mini-Me In the Austin Powers sequel, The Spy Who Shagged Me, Verne Troyer played 80 cm of pure comic evil. Mini-me got maxi-mileage. Now his character is a cultural icon, and he's a star--busy with roles in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and on American TV shows, hanging around with the likes of Leo DiCaprio and Hugh Hefner. Forget the de rigueur website. Success means having not one but two action figures to your name.

The Best (and Worst) of 1999
What will stick in the collective memory is the best and worst of our own fin de siècle, and 1999 had a bumper crop of winners and some memorable bummers as well


Macau: Macau's Big Gamble
The Portuguese colony's return to China will be a low-key affair. The real fireworks will begin when the new owners try to clean up the joint
Extended Interview: 'We Will Make the Triads Uncomfortable'
In his temporary government office, Macau Chief Executive-designate Edmund Ho spoke about the future of the territory with TIME

Japan: A Fairy-Tale Ending?
After years of waiting, Japan's royal-watchers are thrilled over hints that the Princess may be pregnant

4 J.K. Rowling You aren't necessarily a Muggle if you don't know this 34-year-old British author's name. But you are if you're unfamiliar with her creation, the child wizard Harry Potter, who spent the year entrancing so many other kids that all three of his books topped the New York Times bestseller list. Millions of copies have been sold, netting Rowling a reported $14 million this year. Only those who can't appreciate the magic--like the publishers who fretted that Potter books were crowding "adult" authors off the list--could complain.

5 Vince McMahon Those who consider pro wrestling a sad joke should consider this: during his tenure as head of the World Wrestling Federation, McMahon has turned the spectacle of muscle-bound men bouncing off each other into one of America's preeminent TV experiences. When the WWF went public in October, McMahon became an instant billionaire, with the stock--all owned by McMahon and family--worth $1.7 billion. On tap: a record label, film deals, theme restaurants and even a Las Vegas hotel.

6 Laetitia Casta Tens of thousands of Net surfers missed out on a chance to see French stunner Casta sashaying half-naked down the runway when they overloaded the Victoria's Secret website early in the year. But anyone still desperate for a glimpse can jet over to France, where the Association of French Mayors picked Casta as the new model for thousands of busts of the national symbol "Marianne"--the partly draped heroine leading the rabble over the barricades in the 1830 Delacroix painting.

7 Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones The Swiss psychiatrist and British balloon instructor did what no one--not even Jules Verne's Phileas Fogg--had succeeded in doing: in their silvery Breitling Orbiter balloon, they lifted off from the Alps, landed in the Egyptian desert 20 days later and, in between, circled the globe. "I am with the angels," said Piccard when the duo crossed the finish line. And now, too, with the ranks of the world's great adventurers.

National Science Foundation/AP

8 Dr. Jerri Nielsen Simply living through an eight-month Antarctic winter would be a feat in itself. But when Nielsen, 47, the sole physician at a South Pole research station, discovered a lump in her breast in June, she embarked on an even more poignant ordeal. After doing a biopsy on herself, she proceeded to treat the cancer on her own, receiving advice by e-mail, until the temperature rose high enough (to a balmy -53 degrees C) to permit a plane to land for a few minutes to pick her up.

9 Brothers In Film Hollywood lives for rivalries, but this year celebrated sibling cooperation. Chris and Paul Weitz of Antz fame produced the lewd but irresistible American Pie (raking in nearly $100 million), while Andy and Larry Wachowski wove video-game violence and a Net morality play into The Matrix. On their familial heels: the brothers Coen (Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?), Farrelly (Stuck on You) and Hughes (From Hell).

10 Prince William The towheaded heir to the British throne never really had a gawky phase. But the 17-year-old prince certainly gained a new maturity this year--being voted the millennium's hottest male date by Tatler magazine, getting a driver's license, promoting the coming out of his father's lover, Camilla Parker Bowles, flirting with teen idol Britney Spears, even being accused of an affair with a woman a decade older than he is. Fine practice for a life that will be spent in the tabs.

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