A forum poster may have summed him up best (I know, what are the odds!?!) - Pantani had higher highs and lower lows than most, which is why his story transcends cycling and is more complex than 'just another doper' who died of an OD.
A little story from "Tutto Pantani" found here and recounted by new Italian ct Davide Cassani... in 1991, Gianni Bugno was deemed unbeatable. He had won the Giro along with three stages, finished second at the Tour, was Italian National Champion, and had just won the World Championship. Late in that year they raced the cronoscalata della Futa, both for pro's and amateurs. Bugno dominated, and Pantani crushed the amateur field but was just seconds off of Bugno's time! Cassani saw the little pirate after the race, with his cycling cap and team sweatsuit on. He wasn't happy to have dominated the race, but was obviously upset and silent, struggling internally with the fact that he had lost... to possibly the greatest pro cyclist of the day! As an amateur, no less!
Tutto Pantani" and reading "The Death of Marco Pantani" again.
And, if I'm lucky enough to escape the house (we're getting our third snow of at least 8" in a week!), I'll look for a bottle of Giacobazzi Lambrusco... Marco's first big sponsor, and toast Pantani!