Turbulent family life of jet-set prince

PRINCE Rainier III, whose glittering marriage to Irish-American film star Grace Kelly endowed a reign that spanned more than a half-century with elegance and glamour, guided Monaco’s transformation from a sleepy retreat for the wealthy into a centre of finance and tourism.

Prince Rainier, who assumed the throne on May 9, 1949, also suffered the tragedy of his famous wife’s death and the relentless scandals - including international criticism of the principality’s tax laws - that plagued the final two decades of his rule.

The leader of one of Europe’s longest-ruling royal families, the Grimaldis, Prince Rainier suffered recurring health problems in recent years. Most recently, he was admitted to Monaco’s Cardio-Thoracic Centre on March 7 with a chest infection.

Prince Rainier’s heir is Crown Prince Albert, who is unmarried and has no children. Monaco changed its succession law in 2002 to allow power to pass from a reigning prince who has no descendants to his siblings. Albert has two sisters, Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie, both of whom have children.

Under Prince Rainier’s leadership, the Mediterranean enclave partially shed its image as “a sunny place for shady people”, and became a hub for the hi-tech pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.

In 1993, Monaco gained the political recognition Prince Rainier sought for his principality with its entry to the UN.

But it was his April 18, 1956, marriage to Hollywood heartbreaker Grace Kelly that would put Monaco on the world stage and define the golden age of his reign. Her death in a car crash on September 14, 1982, signalled the end of Monaco’s halcyon days.

“She was always present and ready to do things either with me or for me if I couldn’t do them,” Prince Rainier said of his late wife in 1983.

Rainier Grimaldi was the 30th descendant of Otto Canella, who founded the house of Grimaldi that has ruled Monaco since 1297. Born May 31, 1923, the son of a princess born out of wedlock, Rainier was heir to a family with a stormy past. Educated in England, Switzerland and France, Prince Rainier joined the French army as a foreign volunteer in 1944. A second lieutenant with the French II Corps, he took part in operations to free Alsace from Nazi Germany and was later awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Prince Rainier became Monaco’s ruler aged 26 when his grandfather died in 1949. As a youth he had a long romance with French actress Gisele Pascal, became a keen fan of jazz and studied oceanography. He also had a love of fast cars.

He met Grace Kelly in 1955 when he was 31 and she was the 25-year-old star attraction of the Cannes Film Festival. She already had an Oscar from her 1954 film The Country Girl, one of only 11 films she made.

In January 1956, they announced their engagement and were married in April. Ten months later they had the first of their three children, Princess Caroline. Prince Albert’s birth came the year after, on March 14. Princess Stephanie was born on February 1, 1965.

Over the years, Prince Rainier worked to consolidate his authority and expand Monaco’s economic base as a tax haven for international millionaires. New luxury hotels, high-rises and some of the world’s most expensive real estate now hug Monaco’s coast. Gambling receipts account for 3% of the revenues of the principality, home to slightly over 32,000 people.

Prince Rainier also won battles with France to keep his principality’s ban on personal income tax, and with Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis for control of the firm that operates Monaco’s gambling operations and its luxury hotels.

In the years following Princess Grace’s death, Monaco’s royal family increasingly became grist for the world’s tabloids.

Princess Caroline’s rocky first marriage ended in 1980 and her second husband was killed in a boating accident in 1990. Her third husband, German prince Ernst August of Hanover, was ordered to pay more than €330,000 in 2001 for yelling at an editor of a newspaper that reported he had urinated in public.

Princess Stephanie was known for her tempestuous affairs. She had two children by a former bodyguard, then married him in 1995. The marriage only lasted 18 months.

She had a third child in 1998 and refused to reveal the name of the father. Stephanie subsequently had a much-publicised romance with the director of the Swiss national circus, before marrying a Portuguese acrobat in 2003.

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