MONACO — Prince Rainier III, whose marriage to American film star Grace Kelly brought elegance and glamour to one of Europe’s oldest dynasties, died Wednesday at the hospital treating him for heart, kidney and breathing problems. He was 81.
Rainier’s royal palace announced his death nearly a full month after he was first admitted with a lung infection to a heart and chest clinic that overlooks Monaco’s glittering, yacht-filled harbor.
He had been Europe’s longest-reigning monarch.
The prince's funeral will be held on April 15 at the 19th-century Monaco Cathedral where he and Princess Grace wed.
Prince Albert, Rainier’s son and heir, was at his side when he died at 6:35 a.m. Rainier’s doctors called Albert a little before 6 a.m. to tell him the end was near, the palace said.
Rainier, who assumed the throne on May 9, 1949, also endured the tragedy of his famous wife’s death and relentless scandals — including international criticism of the principality’s tax laws — that plagued the final two decades of his rule.
Recurring health problems
The leader of Europe’s longest-ruling royal family, the Grimaldis, Rainier suffered recurring health problems in recent years. The silver-haired, portly prince underwent heart surgery in 1999. He had two operations the following year, including having a nodule removed from a lung, and was hospitalized in 2002 for fatigue and bronchitis.
Recurrent chest infections put him in the hospital on numerous occasions. Most recently, he was hospitalized March 7 at Monaco’s Cardio-Thoracic Center with a chest infection. He was placed in intensive care two weeks later with heart and kidney failure and hooked up to a respirator.
Prince Rainier’s public appearances grew increasingly rare as his health deteriorated, although he attended Monaco’s top social event, the Red Cross Ball, in August 2004.
A Mass for the royal family was being held in the chapel on Wednesday evening. The family and royal household will observe a three-month period of mourning, ending July 6, the palace said.
Monaco government officials will observe a one-month mourning period. Drums used at the traditional midday changing of the palace guards were covered with black cloth Wednesday.
Rainier's son to assume throne
Monaco had been preparing for the demise of its prince for several years.
Prince Albert is unmarried and has no children. Monaco changed its succession law in 2002 to allow power to pass from a reigning prince who has no descendants to his siblings. Albert has two sisters, Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie, both of whom have children.
Under Rainier’s leadership, the Mediterranean enclave partially shed its image as “a sunny place for shady people” and became a hub for the high-tech pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Rainier was known as the “builder prince” for his many infrastructure projects, and he increased the size of his territory by 20 percent with land reclamation.
“I am like the head of a company,” he once said of his role in transforming Monaco.
In 1993, Monaco gained the political recognition Rainier sought for his principality with its entry into the United Nations.
But it was his April 18, 1956, marriage to Hollywood heartbreaker Grace Kelly that put Monaco on the world stage and defined the golden age of his reign. For many, her death in a car accident on Sept. 14, 1982, signaled the end of Monaco’s halcyon days.
“She was always present and ready to do things either with me or for me if I couldn’t do them,” Rainier said of his late wife in a 1983 interview. “Let’s say the change is that we worked as a team and the team has been split up.”
Family had stormy past
Rainier Grimaldi was the 30th descendant of Otto Canella, who founded the house of Grimaldi that has ruled Monaco since 1297. Born May 31, 1923, the son of a princess born out of wedlock, Rainier was heir to a family with a stormy past — a harbinger of the scandals to come.
The marriage of his great-grandfather Prince Albert to Lady Mary Douglas Hamilton was dissolved in 1880. Albert’s son, Prince Louis II, had a youthful romance with a French girl in Algeria that produced Princess Charlotte, Rainier’s mother.
In 1920, Charlotte married Rainier’s father, Prince Pierre de Polignac. Rainier was born in 1923 and his parents divorced soon after.
Educated in England, Switzerland and France, Rainier undertook military service near the end of World War II. He became Monaco’s ruler at age 26 when his grandfather died in 1949.
As a youth, Rainier had a long romance with French actress Gisele Pascal, became a keen fan of jazz and studied oceanography, later helping to finance Jacques Cousteau’s Oceanographic Institute in Monaco. He also developed a love of fast cars.
A glamorous marriage
He met Grace Kelly in 1955 when he was 31 and she was the 25-year-old star attraction of the Cannes Film Festival. Kelly already had an Oscar from the 1954 film “The Country Girl,” one of only 11 movies she made.
In January 1956, they announced their engagement and were married in April. Ten months later they had the first of their three children, Caroline. Albert’s birth came the following year, on March 14. Stephanie was born Feb. 1, 1965.
Over the years, Rainier worked to consolidate his authority and expand Monaco’s economic base as a tax haven for international millionaires who gambled at the territory’s swanky casino.
New luxury hotels, towering high-rises and some of the world’s most expensive real estate now hug Monaco’s coastline. Gambling receipts account for only 3 percent of the revenues of the principality, home to slightly more than 32,000 people.
Rainier also won battles with France to keep his principality’s ban on personal income tax and with Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis for control of the company that operates Monaco’s gambling operations and most of its luxury hotels.
In the years following Princess Grace’s death, Monaco’s royal family increasingly became grist for the world’s tabloids.
Princess Caroline’s rocky first marriage ended in 1980, and her second husband was killed in a boating accident in 1990. Her third husband, German prince Ernst August of Hanover, was ordered to pay more than $440,000 in 2001 for yelling at an editor of a newspaper that reported he had urinated in public.
Princess Stephanie was known for her tempestuous affairs. She had two children by a former bodyguard, then married him in 1995. The marriage lasted 18 months, ending after he was photographed cavorting poolside with a Belgian stripper.
She had a third child in 1998 and refused to reveal the name of the father. She later had a much-publicized romance with the director of the Swiss national circus.
The reputation of Monaco itself has also fallen under scrutiny.
In April 2002, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development listed Monaco as one of seven tax havens refusing to cooperate with a major international effort to end harmful tax practices and tax evasion.
Even Rainier’s fairy-tale marriage to Grace Kelly was a target.
A 1994 biography of Princess Grace claimed that the marriage had gone sour and that Rainier’s “neglect” forced her to find solace in alcohol — and younger men.
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