Johan Friso, Dutch prince touched by scandal, dies at 44


A photo dated Dec. 17, 2010, shows Dutch Prince Johan Friso during the Prince Claus Award in the Palace on Dam in Amsterdam. (FRANK VAN BEEK/EPA)
August 14, 2013

Johan Friso, the bespectacled Dutch prince who avoided the limelight and gave up his position in line to the throne after getting entangled in a scandal with his bride-to-be, died Aug. 12 — 18 months after a skiing accident that left his brain gravely injured. He was 44.

The royal house said the prince died of complications from the accident, without giving more details. It said he never regained more than “minimal consciousness.”

Prince Friso was struck by an avalanche while skiing off-trail in Lech, Austria, on Feb. 17, 2012, and was buried until rescuers pulled him from the snow, unconscious, 20 minutes later. He was resuscitated at the scene and flown to a hospital, but remained in a coma for months.

In addition to the royal family, Prince Friso is survived by his wife, Princess Mabel, and two daughters, Luana and Zaria.

Prince Friso, the second of former Queen Beatrix’s three sons, had sometimes been known as “Prince Brilliant.” He studied at the University of California at Berkeley, the Technical University of Delft and Erasmus University in Rotterdam, graduating from the Dutch universities cum laude with degrees in engineering and economics. He later earned a master’s degree in business administration at France’s prestigious INSEAD school of business.

The central event of his life as a royal came when he gave up his claim to the throne in order to marry Dutchwoman Mabel Wisse Smit, in a wedding not sanctioned by the government.

The couple got engaged in 2003. Wisse Smit worked for George Soros’s Open Society Institute and was seen by the queen as an ideal daughter-in-law. But during her vetting to join the royal house, she and Prince Friso decided not to disclose the full extent of a friendship she had had while she was a college student.

The friend in question: drug baron Klaas Bruinsma, who later became one of the country’s most infamous crime lords and was slain in a 1991 gangland killing.

Wisse Smit denies ever having had any romantic involvement with Bruinsma and says she hadn’t understood who he was at the time. But as details about their relationship emerged in the Dutch press, then-Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said it was clear the pair had held back information and he wouldn’t propose the law needed for parliament to approve Wisse Smit’s entry to the royal house.

The couple acknowledged being “naive and incomplete” in what they told Balkenende.

Other spouses of Dutch royalty have endured controversy. Beatrix’s own marriage was initially unpopular because of her husband’s German nationality. King Willem-Alexander’s Argentine wife, Queen Máxima, has been criticized over her father’s ties to the former totalitarian regime.

Prince Friso and Mabel decided to marry without seeking parliamentary approval. The decision meant Prince Friso would be cut from the royal house and line of succession. They were still considered members of the royal family, and bore the honorific titles of prince and princess of Orange-Nassau.

Afterward, Prince Friso seemed relieved at the certainty he would never be called upon to assume the throne.

After his studies, Prince Friso worked in consulting and later became a vice president at the Goldman Sachs investment bank in London. At the time of the accident he was working as chief financial officer of the uranium enrichment company Urenco.

Although Prince Friso did not have an image as a risk-taker, the skiing accident — off the trail despite avalanche warnings — was not an isolated incident. He was also once stopped while driving 120 mph.

One of Prince Friso’s most sympathetic moments in the public eye came shortly after the death in 2002 of his father, Prince Claus: It fell to Prince Friso to escort his mother at the funeral ceremony. He supported her in a long, stately walk to her seat as she leaned heavily on his arm, deep in grief.

— Associated Press

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