Monaco's Prince Rainier III Dies

Monaco's Prince Rainier III, whose marriage to movie star Grace Kelly and shrewd strategy of attracting business and tourism turned his tiny state into a jet-set resort celebrated for its glamour, gambling and gorgeous young royals, died today, his palace said. He was 81.

The palace said the prince died after a battle with lung, heart and kidney problems.

"His Most Serene Highness Prince Rainier III died on Wednesday, April 6, 2005, at 6:35 in the morning (0435 GMT) at Monaco's Cardiothoracic Centre following broncho-pulmonary, cardiac and kidney disorders," the palace said in a statement.

Rainier, who had suffered from heart and respiratory problems for several years, had been hospitalized since March 7. The palace said March 22 that he had been moved into intensive care after his condition took an unexpected turn for the worse.

His only son, Prince Albert, succeeds him as ruler of the principality, which takes up less than one square mile on the Mediterranean coast, near the French border with Italy. Albert, 47, took over his father's royal duties last week as hopes for his recovery faded.

Rainier ruled over Monaco for more than half a century, and his family has been in power for seven centuries. The family traces its history back to Francois Grimaldi, who, back in 1297, dressed up as a monk and begged shelter at the fortress on the Rock of Monaco. Once inside, he seized control.

Young Heir Becomes Ruler

His Serene Highness Prince Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand was born in the palace of Monaco on May 31, 1923. His mother was Princess Charlotte, sole heir of Monaco's Prince Louis II. She married a French aristocrat, Count Pierre de Polignac, who subsequently adopted the Grimaldi name.

Pierre and Charlotte produced two children, Rainier and Princess Antoinette, but their marriage was not happy. The couple divorced in 1929, but continued to battle over their children.

Rainier was sent to prep school in England. He reportedly was very unhappy, and later transferred to a Swiss boarding school. He obtained a bachelor's degree from the Université Montpellier and later studied at the School of Political Sciences in Paris.

During World War II, Rainier was fiercely anti-Nazi, and he unsuccessfully pressed his grandfather to dismiss his pro-German minister of state. Rainier joined the French army where he served with distinction, receiving the Cross of War and the Bronze Star.

After the war, the French government awarded him the Knight's Cross and inducted him into the Military Legion of Honor. He eventually rose to the rank of colonel.

Prince Louis died on May 9, 1949. Princess Charlotte had earlier given up her right to the throne in favor of her son, and so, just three weeks before his 26th birthday, he succeeded as Rainier III.

The Princess Bride

The new sovereign prince needed a bride. Advisers suggested he choose someone who could boost the principality's profile internationally -- perhaps even an American film star. Marilyn Monroe reportedly was among the names mentioned.

In any event, Rainier's attention was captured by Grace Kelly, the cool blond star of such films as "High Noon," "Dial M for Murder," Rear Window," "To Catch a Thief" and "The Country Girl," for which she won a best actress Oscar.

Rainier first met the Philadelphia-born Kelly in 1955 at the Cannes Film Festival on the French Riviera, and they furthered their acquaintance when the actress agreed to be photographed with the prince in Monaco as a publicity stunt.

On Jan. 5, 1956, their engagement was announced: The European prince would marry Hollywood royalty. On April 19, the couple married in Monaco's cathedral. Kelly, wearing a white wedding gown handmade by an MGM wardrobe designer, became Her Serene Highness Princess Grace.

The new princess became pregnant right away and in January 1957 she gave birth to the couple's first child, Princess Caroline. The next year, Prince Albert, the heir to the throne, was born, followed in 1965 by Princess Stephanie.

Rebuilding the Economy

Monaco's economy had been devastated in World War II, and Rainier turned to the task of repairing its finances. His marriage to Princess Grace brought the principality unprecedented publicity. Rainier built on that.

By offering tax breaks, the tiny country attracted international business. Although they later had a falling out, Rainier got Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis to invest in the corporation that owned Monaco's casino and hotels.

The prince encouraged tourism, and his wife started the Princess Grace Foundation to promote the arts.

In December 1962, Rainier gave his principality a new constitution, affirming Monaco's status as a sovereign state. In 1993, Monaco entered the United Nations.

End of the Fairy Tale

While Rainier saw his principality grow in prestige, his family life was beset with problems. In 1978, 21-year-old Princess Caroline married Philippe Junot, a French playboy 17 years her senior. Both Rainier and Grace had objected to their daughter's choice, but they felt forced to give in. Two years later, the marriage was over.

Grace did not approve of the teenage Princess Stephanie's boyfriend, either. On Sept. 13, 1982, mother and daughter reportedly were arguing over the romance as Grace drove Stephanie to Monaco from Roc Angel, the family's nearby French retreat. The car plunged off a cliff.

An injured Princess Stephanie managed to crawl out of the wreckage and go for help, but Princess Grace was brain-dead. She was taken to the hospital that bore her name, and her family later made the painful decision to turn off her life-support system.

The death had a devastating effect on the family, especially Stephanie. Rumors abounded that the teen, who did not have a driver's license at the time, had actually been the one behind the wheel and that the palace was engaged in a cover-up. It's now believed that Grace suffered a stroke, which caused her to lose control of the car.

Rainier never remarried.

More Tragedy … and Scandal

After her mother's death, Princess Caroline assumed the duties of first lady of Monaco. The heir, Prince Albert, had not married, so it was natural for Ranier's eldest daughter to fill the role.

Caroline married an Italian named Stefano Casiraghi and the couple had three children -- Andrea, Charlotte and Pierre. In 1990, Casiraghi was killed in a powerboat race accident.

After his death, people began to whisper about the "Grimaldi curse." But Caroline eventually rebuilt her life. In 1999, she married Prince Ernst of Hanover. The couple had a baby girl, Princess Alexandra of Hanover.

Stephanie continued to dominate the scandal sheets, much to her father's annoyance. She flirted with careers as a model, pop star and fashion designer, and embarked on a series of highly publicized romances.

Rainier was furious when Stephanie took up with one of her bodyguards, a former fishmonger named Daniel Ducruet. Things went from bad to worse, in the prince's opinion, when in 1992 the unwed Stephanie bore a son, Louis. Two years later, she and Ducruet had a daughter, Pauline.

In 1995, the couple married. In a sign that he did not expect his new son-in-law to remain for long, Rainier reportedly took steps to protect his daughter's fortune. It was a prudent move: In 1996, the tabloids published compromising photos of Ducruet and a lady who once held the title of "Miss Bare Breasts Belgium."

Stephanie filed for divorce, but the end of Ducruet in her life did not mean the end of scandal. In 1998, the princess gave birth to a daughter, Camille. She declined to identify the father.

After a romance with a married elephant trainer (during which she moved her three children into a trailer so they could follow the circus), Stephanie took up with Adans Lopez Peres, a Portuguese acrobat nearly 10 years her junior. They married in September 2003, but less than a year later the princess declared the marriage was over.

Although he must have tired of seeing his children become tabloid staples, Rainier's support never wavered. He was often photographed with his grandchildren. As they grew to be older teens, Andrea Casiraghi and his sister, Charlotte, attracted media attention for their startling good looks and the increasing possibility that Andrea might be tapped to one day succeed his uncle, if Prince Albert remained single.

In 1997, the Grimaldi family celebrated 700 years of rule in Monaco. Although there was speculation the aging Rainier would abdicate in favor of his son, the prince held onto the reins of power until the very end.

Prince Rainier is survived by his three children and seven grandchildren.