An accomplished sportsman, a bright student and a confirmed bachelor, Prince Albert II of Monaco remains an untested monarch.
Albert, 47, became the ruler of Monaco on the death today of his 81-year-old father, Prince Rainier III. A formal investiture ceremony will take place after a mourning period.
Albert had already taken over his father's duties, becoming regent on March 31 after a royal commission decided Rainier was too sick to retain them.
Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre was born on March 14, 1958, in Monaco, the sovereign principality on the northern Mediterranean coast -- a state about the size of New York's Central Park. He is the only son of Prince Rainier III of Monaco and Grace Kelly, the stunning American actress who died in a car accident in 1982 at the age of 52.
As Monaco's heir, Prince Albert was groomed from his earliest days to succeed his father.
"I think Prince Albert will be a very good monarch because he is well prepared, he has been brought up to do the job," said Stephane Bern, a royal analyst and broadcaster on the national France Inter radio.
Shy and in the Spotlight
Prince Albert's father personally supervised his son's upbringing. He wanted to toughen up the sensitive, stammering, blue-eyed, blond boy who had inherited his mother's good looks, according to John Glatt's book "The Royal House of Monaco."
Albert graduated with honors from a Monegasque high school and then went on to Amherst College in Massachusetts. He graduated in 1981 with a degree in political science. The young prince loved America, where other children were less deferential to him than they were in Monaco and he could feel like anyone else, explains Glatt.
He stayed off the front pages of broadsheets during his time at Amherst and then joined the French navy. His father had served with distinction in France's army during World War II, receiving the Cross of War and the Bronze Star.
In the days following Princess Grace's death on Sept. 13, 1982, the shy 24-year-old was forced into the spotlight. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Albert tried his hand at business with a number of internships. In a span of less than three years, he worked in New York in financial management, in the beverage and marketing industries in Paris, and dabbled in advertising before working at a law firm back in New York.
Prince Rainier started including his son in Monaco's day-to-day affairs. Albert attended Cabinet meetings with his father and headed his nation's delegation to the United Nations. He also assumed leadership of various national federations and organizations, such as the Red Cross.
Albert's interests went beyond business. By the mid-'80s, he was named one of the world's most eligible bachelors. The serial dater was linked in headline with celebrities, including supermodels Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer.
In recent years, Rainier focused his efforts on persuading Albert to marry and provide an heir of his own.
Albert's failure to marry has prompted suggestions that he is gay, although he denies this.
"He's got too many girlfriends, pretty blondes. And I think the people feel the sooner he settles on one of them, the better that will be," historian and author Robert Lacy said today on ABC News' "Good Morning America."
His father was worried enough to change the constitution in 2002. Under the terms of a 1918 treaty, if the ruling prince died without producing an heir, Monaco would become part of France. The constitution now allows power to pass from a reigning prince who has no descendants to his siblings or their offspring. Albert has two sisters, Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie, both of whom have children. After Caroline, the next in line would be her eldest son, Andrea Casiraghi.
Actor and Five-Time Olympian
Although there were some suggestions that Prince Rainier might decide to abdicate and turn over power to his son, but that never happened. That left Albert plenty of time to date and pursue other passions. In 1997, he took a crack at his mother's career with a cameo role in a Mexican period film, "One Man's Hero." He also competed with Monaco's soccer squad and participated in five Winter Olympics as a member of the national bobsledding team.
Prince Albert now takes on the role for which he was destined: ruler of Monaco. It will be a challenge to equal his father's reign. Prince Rainier took over the tiny state in 1949 at the age of 26.
As the longest-reigning European monarch, Rainier transformed the country from a sleepy casino town into a thriving tax haven for the super-rich and a high-tech pharmaceutical and cosmetic hub.
It's Prince Albert's jewel of the Mediterranean now as he leads the Grimaldi dynasty into its next chapter.