Prince Who Brought Glamour to Monaco Dies

By Pierre Thebault

MONACO (Reuters) - Monaco's Prince Rainier,
whose marriage to U.S. actress Grace Kelly brought
Hollywood glamour to his tiny Mediterranean state,
died on Wednesday aged 81.

The palace said Europe's longest-reigning monarch
died at 6:35 a.m. (0435 GMT) after a month in hospital
battling lung, heart and kidney problems.

Some Monaco residents fought back tears as
they heard the news, and tributes poured
in from foreign leaders for the man who
turned the world's smallest state after
the Vatican from a faded gambling center
into a haven for billionaires.

Rainier put Monaco on the international
stage with his romance of and marriage
to Kelly in 1956.

Princess Grace died in a car crash in
1982 and Rainier, heartbroken, never
remarried. He is expected to be buried
beside his wife close to the palace
after at least a week's mourning.
No date has been set for the funeral.

Rainier will be succeeded by 47-year-old
Prince Albert, who took over his father's
royal duties last week as hopes faded that
Rainier would recover.

A shy man, Albert has lived in the shadow of
his more glamorous parents and sisters Stephanie
and Caroline while being groomed for power
as Rainier's only son. He has been linked to
a succession of models and actresses but
has never settled down.


Flags were already at half-mast in
Monaco in honor of Pope John Paul II.
The mood in the principality was somber.

"Everyone here feels orphaned,"
Patrick Leclercq, Monaco's minister
of state, said in a statement to French television.

The principality's soccer club
postponed Sunday's scheduled match
against Lille in France's top league as a mark of respect.

Rainier officially became monarch on April 11,
1950, but had already ruled Monaco for almost
a year following the death of his grandfather, Prince Louis II.

When Rainier succeeded his grandfather
Monaco was best known for the casino
on which its prosperity was founded
in the 19th century. As Europe's last
constitutional autocrat, he led Monaco
into an age of skyscrapers, international
banking and business.

He strengthened the sovereignty of Monaco
and it won a United Nations seat in 1993.

"The builder prince, the visionary prince,
Rainier was behind the radical transformation
of the principality ...
which made it a modern state," Stephane Valeri,
President of Monaco's National Council
or parliament, said in a statement.

The presidents of France and Germany
praised his reign, and Britain,
the European Commission and U.N.
Secretary General Kofi Annan sent their condolences.

"The secretary-general wishes Prince Albert
every courage and fortitude as he succeeds
his father at the helm of the principality,"
chief U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth said she
was saddened by Rainier's death and sent
a private message of condolence to Prince Albert and the family.

Rainier -- the world's second
longest-serving monarch after
King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand --
cut a lonely figure in later life as
media focused on his children's problems
and on charges that Monaco had become a
mafia refuge for dirty money.

His daughters have had a succession of
disastrous, high-profile relationships.

For all Monaco's prosperity,
Rainier's reign appeared to
support the myth of the curse
supposed to have hung over the
Grimaldi dynasty during its seven
centuries of rule that said the family
would never have long and successful marriages.

Seventeen years after Princess
Grace's death, Rainier said: "I still feel her absence.
It was a marriage of love."

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