Prince Rainier III, who symbolized the glamour and glitz of Riviera royalty during his long reign over the Lilliputian principality of Monaco, particularly after his fairy tale wedding in 1956 to the beautiful American actress Grace Kelly, died Wednesday. The 81-year-old prince had a history of heart problems; the palace said he died at 6:35 a.m. from heart, kidney and lung problems.
Europe's longest-reigning monarch was at Monaco's Cardiothoracic Centre, the hospital overlooking Monaco's glittering, yacht-filled harbor, where he had been hospitalized nearly a month with a lung infection.
Prince Rainier attends a national day of celebration in Monaco with his children, Prince Albert, Princess Caroline, second from left, and Princess Stephanie on November 19, 2000.
(Reuters File Photo)
Video: Prince Rainier III died nearly a month after he was hospitalized with a lung infection. He was 81.
His only son, Prince Albert, was at his side.
The body of Rainier, whose family dynasty took power in 1297, was moved to his hilltop palace where it will in lie in state, the palace said. The Mediterranean enclave's famed Monte Carlo casino closed its doors Wednesday in a sign of respect.
"Each of us feels like an orphan, because the principality has been marked by his imprint over the 56 years" of his reign, Patrick Leclercq, head of government in the principality of 32,000 people, told the Associated Press.
Heir to the House of Grimaldi and Europe's longest-reigning monarch, Rainier ascended to the throne in 1949, succeeding his grandfather, Prince Louis II. Although the world knew him as the husband of Princess Grace, he also came to be known closer to home as "the builder prince." During his reign, hotels and high-rises sprouted on the rocky patch of land he benevolently ruled. Developers wedged in malls and public projects, and engineers reclaimed precious land from the sea.
The marriage of the debonair ruler to the dazzling American actress, the first "wedding of the century," also helped revive the fortunes of the tiny principality. Close to bankruptcy at the time, Monaco experienced an infusion of transatlantic glamour, not to mention increased tourism and investment.
He had met Kelly on the set of Alfred Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief," filmed on the Riviera; he was 31, she 25. She already had an Oscar for her role in the 1954 film "The Country Girl," one of only 11 films she made.
The marriage agreement required negotiations reminiscent of a marital arrangement between powerful ruling families of the Middle Ages. Rainier's family, the Grimaldis, had reigned for nearly 700 years; Kelly's was second-generation Philadelphia Irish.
"I don't want any damn broken-down prince who is head of a pinhead country that nobody knows anything about to marry my daughter," her father, Jack Kelly, was quoted as saying. The self-made millionaire in the building business eventually bestowed his blessing, although he balked at the suggestion from the Grimaldis that he pay a $2 million dowry. He did, however, spring for a $2 million Monte Carlo wedding.
The royal fairy tale came to a tragic end in 1982, when Princess Grace was killed in a car accident in the hills overlooking Monaco. Rainier's lingering sadness over the years occasionally prompted speculation that he would abdicate in favor of his son, Prince Albert. Rainier himself often said he would step aside as soon as Albert, now 47, was ready for the duties of the throne. That time came with his father in the hospital, only a few days before his death.
Born in Monaco as Prince Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand, Rainier was scion of a Genoese family whose control of Monaco dates back to medieval wars between two Italian factions, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. He was the 30th descendant of Otto Canella, who founded the house of Grimaldi.
The Grimaldis, aligned with the pro-papal Guelphs, were forced out of Genoa, but on a January night in 1297, they had their revenge. Francois Grimaldi disguised himself as a monk and was admitted through the gates of the fortress perched on a rock high above the Mediterranean. With a sword concealed in his habit, he overpowered the guards and admitted his company of triumphant Guelph troops into Monaco.
The Grimaldis took control of what today is a 482-acre principality -- smaller than New York City's Central Park -- wedged between France, Italy and the sea. Except for brief periods, they have ruled ever since.