MONACO, March 31 -- Groomed from birth to rule, Prince Albert took over Monaco's royal powers on Thursday, assuming all but the throne in the tiny principality after a royal commission decided his critically ill father was too sick to perform his duties.
The announcement by the royal palace marked the first time since 1949 that Prince Rainier III -- Europe's longest-serving ruler -- had not been in control of the Mediterranean realm, which is smaller than New York's Central Park and famed as a playground for the rich and famous.
Prince Rainier III of Monaco, right, and his son, Prince Albert, in 1999.
(Eric Gaillard -- Reuters)
Albert, 47, is the only son of Rainier and his late wife, Grace Kelly, the American movie actress who exchanged Hollywood stardom for the life of a princess.
Well-traveled, multilingual and Monaco's top ambassador in recent years, the unmarried Albert is also regarded as a shy, even reluctant, heir. Sports are one of his loves: He is a five-time Olympic bobsledder and has headed Monaco's Olympic committee since 1994.
Albert promised to devote himself "with strength, conviction and passion" to his new role as regent of Monaco, which the Grimaldi family has ruled for seven centuries. "The state of health of our father remains very fragile," he said in a statement. "Today, faced with the difficulty for my father in exercising his high functions, I will assume all of the royal powers in his name."
Rainier, 81, was hospitalized March 7 and has been in intensive care for 10 days with breathing, kidney and heart problems.
The Council of the Crown, a commission appointed by Rainier, met Thursday at the palace that overlooks Monaco's yacht-filled harbor and decided after weighing his doctors' diagnosis that the ailing prince could no longer rule.
The regency means Albert assumes royal powers while Rainier is sick, but his father could regain them if he recovers, said a palace spokesman, Armand Deus. Rainier, however, keeps the throne. "The sovereign prince is still Prince Rainier III," Deus said.
Albert graduated from high school in 1976, then studied in the United States, at Amherst College in Massachusetts. He returned home in 1981 with a degree in political science.
He has not married and remains childless -- causing sufficient concern that the constitution was revised in 2002 to ensure the continuation of the dynasty. His older sister, Princess Caroline, 48, would succeed him. She in turn, would be succeeded by her eldest son, Andrea Albert Pierre, 20.
Befriended by numerous celebrities, Albert has remained doggedly his own person and, despite his retiring nature, increasingly assumed the role as Monaco's public face as his father grew frail.