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Monaco's Debonair Prince Rainier III Dies at 81

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 7, 2005; Page B07

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 April 6. The 81-year-old prince was Europe's longest-reigning monarch.

The palace said he died from heart, kidney and lung problems. For the past month, he had been hospitalized at Monaco's Cardiothoracic Centre, overlooking the territory's glittering, yacht-filled harbor. The body of Prince Rainier was moved to his hilltop palace, where it will lie in state.

Princess Grace waves to cheering crowds lining the road as she rides in an open car with Prince Rainier III after their wedding in Monaco in April 1956. (AP)

Prince Rainier, heir to the House of Grimaldi, ascended 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 ruled benevolently. Developers wedged in malls and public projects, and engineers reclaimed precious land from the sea. "I am like the head of a company," he once said.

The marriage of the debonair ruler to the dazzling American actress, one of the first "weddings of the century," helped revive the fortunes of the principality of 32,000 people. 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. The marriage required negotiations reminiscent of a marital arrangement between powerful ruling families of the Middle Ages. Prince Rainier's family, the Grimaldis, had reigned for almost 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. Prince Rainier's lingering sadness over the years occasionally prompted speculation that he would abdicate in favor of his son, Prince Albert II. Prince 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.

Prince Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand was born in Monaco, scion of a Genoese family whose control of Monaco dates back to medieval wars between two Italian factions, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines.

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, who proceeded to slaughter their hosts.

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.

The young prince was educated in England, at Summerfield College in Saint Leonards-on-Sea and at Stowe School in Buckingham. He also studied at Chateau de Rosey College in Rolle, Switzerland, and received a bachelor's degree from the School of Political Sciences in Paris.

In 1944, he enlisted as a foreign volunteer in the French army. He served with the 2nd Army, participated in operations in the Alsace campaign and was decorated with the Croix de Guerre with bronze star. After the war, he was assigned to the French Military Mission in Berlin, rising in rank to colonel in 1954.

Prince Rainier assumed the throne in 1949, five years after his mother, Princess Charlotte, took up with a notorious jewel thief known as Rene the Walking Stick and renounced her claim. His father was Prince Pierre Grimaldi of the House of Polignac, whom Charlotte married in 1920 and divorced in 1930.

Prince Louis II, Rainier's grandfather, bestowed the right of rule on young Rainier in 1949 after being extremely ill for several months. Louis died a few weeks later.

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