No dictator has ever tried to pass that mantle on to a third generation of the same family.
Wherever one goes in North Korea, it is virtually impossible to avoid the unblinking stare of The Great Leader or The Dear Leader. Their statues stand watch over the people and their faces are on the currency, portraits are in every carriage of Pyongyang's underground system, on the lapel pins every citizen wears and enormous street hoardings.
The challenge that faces the visibly weakening Kim Jong-il today is how he can create a similar image for his own son, 28-year-old Kim Jong-Un, elevating his achievements and keeping the regime in the family.
"The control the Kim family has exerted over North Korea is like nothing that has been seen before, but it is in part a legacy of traditional Confucianist values in Korean society," said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University and author of a number of books on the North Korean leadership.
"But also, Kim Il-sung saw the strong criticisms of Stalin and Mao after those regimes collapsed and he wanted his son to be loyal to his achievements," he said. "The same thing is happening in North Korea now."
The rise of the youngest Kim has been little short of meteoric. The first pictures of the heir-in-waiting were only released in May of last year, when he was named vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party and given the rank of four-star general.
The pictures generated a storm of speculation in South Korea and Japan that the chubby faced Kim had undergone plastic surgery in order to more closely resemble his revered grandfather.
The Dong-A Ilbo newspaper went as far as to report that Pyongyang is hoping to cement Kim's position through a "reincarnation of North Korea's late founder."
Whether Kim had undergone a little nip and tuck to boost his standing with the public may never be known, but it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility in a nation in which odd behaviour is almost de rigueur.
The Kim family have allegedly amassed several billion dollars in overseas bank accounts, import more than $100 million worth of top-quality wines and liquors every year and collect pedigree dogs. And all the while, a large part of the North Korean population is hungry.
Yet dissent is almost unheard of.
The regime exercises control over the media and recently executed at least two people who were found in possession of propaganda leaflets that had been sent over the border from South Korea attached to balloons.
With the state media sewn up, the Kims can exaggerate their achievements will little likelihood of contradiction.
The official biographies can claim, for example, that Kim Jong-il was born in 1942 in a secret military camp on Baekdu Mountain, from where his father was waging guerrilla warfare against the occupying Japanese. The mountain has today been given almost religious significance in North Korea, although Soviet records show that Kim was actually born in a refugee camp near Khabarovsk in 1941.
From these humble beginnings, the exaggerations of Kim's achievements grow rapidly. He was walking at three weeks and talking at eight weeks. He wrote six operas in three years at university, as well as no fewer than 1,500 books. The "Lodestar of the 21st Century" is also credited with 11 holes-in-one and a 38-under par the first time he picked up a golf club and is equally a genius at architecture and directing movies.
The recent debate in Russia over the removal of Lenin's embalmed body from the mausoleum he has inhabited on Red Square since 1924 is likely to have sent shivers through Kim Jong-il. As he has protected his own father's legacy, he will no doubt hope his son will continue to praise his achievements after his own death.
The last thing he wants is North Korea being opened up to the outside world and the people his family has subjugated for 63 years to realise what they have been missing and the lies they have been fed.
Kim Jong-Un will need even more ruthlessness and political nous - as well as good fortune - to avoid that end.