Born Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi, May 31, 1923, in Monte Carlo, Monaco; died of heart, lung, and kidney failure, April 6, 2005, in Monte Carlo. Prince of Monaco. The death of Prince Rainier III of Monaco marked the end of an era for Europe's oldest royal family still in power. Rainier had headed the small city-state on the French Riviera since 1949, which made him the longest-ruling monarch in Europe. The prince and his successor, Prince Albert II, remain a vestige of a long-ago era when large swaths of Europe were divided into meager territories controlled by princely dynasties.
Born in 1923, Rainier was a Grimaldi, an adventurous Genoese family who seized control of the rocky spit of land on the Mediterranean in 1297. Wedged between the borders of modern-day France and Italy, Monaco was a French protectorate after 1861, and subsequently prospered. Rainier's father was a French nobleman named Pierre, Comte de Polignac, while his mother, Princess Charlotte, was the illegitimate daughter of Monaco's Prince Louis II and a young laundress of Algerian descent. Pierre and Charlotte divorced when their son was six.
Rainier was educated at top schools in England and Switzerland, and served in the Free French Army during World War II, which fought the Nazi occupation of France. He inherited the throne in 1949 when his grandfather died. Derided as a playboy prince, with a fondness for fast cars and pretty women, Rainier proved his detractors wrong by launching initiatives to revitalize Monaco's economy, which was in dire straits at the time. Its main source of revenue had been the legendary casino, and the profits from this had sustained Monaco—largely made up of the municipality of Monte Carlo—since the nineteenth century. So rich were its coffers that Monaco even abolished taxes on income, capital gains, and inheritance in the 1880s.
In the new postwar world, however, the fortunes of Europe's elite had declined considerably, and there was little money left to gamble at the casino. Rainier struck a deal that brought in Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis to revive the casino's fortunes, and it returned to prosperity over the next few years. Rainer also worked to bring new industries and businesses to Monaco, and make it a tourist destination for the middle classes, not just the elite. His vision for Monaco's future was boosted immensely when he met the American film star Grace Kelly, and the two were wed in 1956 after a whirlwind courtship. Kelly was one of the most celebrated Hollywood stars of her era, and was both an Academy-Award winner and a fashion icon; fortunately for Rainier, she was also Roman Catholic, which the Grimaldi dynastic rules required of a royal consort. The extravagant cathedral wedding was one of the most media-saturated events of the entire decade, and the match was widely dubbed a modern-day fairy tale.
Rainier and Grace produced a daughter, Princess Caroline, within a year. Albert, the male heir, arrived in 1958, followed seven years later by a second daughter, Princess Stephanie. Princess Grace proved a well-matched consort for Rainier. She joined him in working to improve Monaco's international reputation though her cultural and philanthropic projects, and their royal household was the object of much press attention over the years for its blend of European sophistication and American ease. The fairy tale ended in September of 1982, when Grace was killed in an automobile accident on a narrow mountain road, the Moyenne Corniche, when the car she was driving plummeted down an incline; seventeen-year-old Stephanie was with her, but survived. At the somber royal funeral—once again an international television event—Rainier appeared paralyzed by grief.
Over the next two decades, Rainier kept busy with business and royal affairs, and though there was talk that he might relinquish the throne in favor of Albert, he did not. Some palace sources hinted that he was unsure if Albert was ready for the royal duties, but Albert seemed the least wayward of the three Grimaldi children. Caroline's first marriage ended somewhat scandalously in a 1980 divorce, and she then wed Italian businessman Stefano Casiraghi in 1983, with whom she had three children, the first of whom was born less than nine months from the nuptials. Casiraghi died seven years later in speedboat accident, leaving Caroline a widow at 33, and she later became involved with a German prince, Ernst-August of Hanover, who divorced his wife to marry her in 1999. Caroline was already expecting a child, her fourth, at the time of the ceremony. Stephanie, meanwhile, had various careers as pop singer, perfume mogul, and swimsuit designer before having a child with her bodyguard; they were wed in 1995, after a second child was born, but the union ended, somewhat predictably, in divorce. She later had another child with another bodyguard, then became involved with a traveling circus and married an acrobat, which also ended in divorce in 2004. Albert, meanwhile, had never married, and his bachelor status prompted the occasional speculation about his sexual orientation.
Albert took over many of his father's official duties in early 2005, when Rainier's health declined. He was at the Prince's side when he died on April 6, 2005, at the age of 81 at Monaco's Cardiothoracic Centre of heart, lung, and kidney failure. The famed Monte Carlo Casino closed its doors that day as a sign of respect for the longtime ruler, who was succeeded in his royal record by Queen Elizabeth II of Britain as Europe's longest-serving monarch. Sources: CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2005/ WORLD/europe/04/06/rainier.obit.ap/index.html (April 6, 2005); Independent (London), April 7, 2005, p. 41; April 16, 2005, p. 3; New York Times, April 7, 2005, p. 1; People, April 25, 2005, pp. 85-88; Philadelphia Inquirer, April 6, 2005; Washington Post, April 6, 2005.
— Carol Brennan