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.
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 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.