Bao Dai, 83, a former emperor of Annam and Vietnam who spent more than 30 years contending with the demands of powerful foreign overlords and the political divisiveness of his own people before ending his life in exile, died July 31 at a military hospital in Paris. The cause of death was not reported.
Over the years, Bao Dai attempted to walk the tightrope of being a nominal monarch in a land ruled by others. During World War II, he found himself under the control of the pro-German Vichy French government and then Japanese occupation forces. After the war, he abdicated, served briefly in a communist government, endured a first exile and served briefly as emperor before being exiled again in 1955.
Bao Dai was born under the name Nguyen Vinh Thuy, the son of Khai Dinh, emperor of Annam, a French protectorate that now is the central coastal strip of Vietnam. After his father died in 1926, he took the throne with the name Bao Dai (Keeper of Greatness). He reigned from palaces in Hue and Da Lat.
Because of his youth, the new emperor was sent to France to complete his education. After taking up his duties as emperor in 1932, he saw his attempts at reform frustrated by the French opposition. Bao Dai then began spending much of his time vacationing in France or hunting in Vietnam's Central Highlands.
During World War II, Bao Dai cooperated with France's pro-German Vichy government and with Japanese forces that occupied Southeast Asia. After the war, with Vietnamese communist forces inexorably gaining power, Bao Dai abdicated and took a common name. He served briefly in Hanoi as the "supreme adviser" to the government of the new Democratic Republic of Vietnam proclaimed by the communist and nationalist leader, Ho Chi Minh.
After Bao Dai endured an exile in Hong Kong and France, the French restored him to an imperial throne as their nominee in 1949. When the 1954 Geneva accords resulted in the division of Vietnam into North and South, Bao Dai made a serious attempt at ruling, as emperor of South Vietnam.
He lost his throne for a final time in 1955. His handpicked and militantly anti-communist premier, Ngo Dinh Diem, engineered the downfall in a national referendum.
The exiled Bao Dai stood largely aloof from politics and Vietnamese affairs for the rest of his life.
Many observers said they believed that Bao Dai had been a reluctant ruler who had little real power under any of his overlords and who did not really want power in any case.
He seemed to prefer life on the French Riviera to an emperor's residence in Southeast Asia.
In his last years as emperor and in his early years of final exile, he led a luxurious lifestyle with interests and pursuits that resulted in much of the world press referring to him as the "Playboy Emperor."
The U.S. government had recognized Bao Dai and his government in 1950. It then began to funnel monetary and other aid to the beleaguered developing nation. The aid was intended to help fund the modernization of South Vietnamese society and to enable its government to stand up to communist North Vietnam.
Much of the aid money found its way to personal overseas bank accounts of the emperor. That money helped ensure his standard of gracious living after the referendum.
During his years in French exile, Bao Dai converted from Buddhism to Roman Catholicism and lost the greater part of his fortune.
His first wife, Nguyen Huu Thi Lan, died in 1968. The next year, he married Monique Baudot. He had six children. CAPTION: BAO DAI