Prince Rainier of Monaco Dies at 81
04/06/2005 AT 08:00 AM EDT
Monaco's Prince Rainier III, Europe's longest-reigning monarch and the widower of American movie star Grace Kelly, died Wednesday at the hospital where for the past month he was treated for heart, kidney and breathing problems. He was 81.
Prince Albert, 47, Rainier's only son, was at his side when he died at 6:35 a.m. after doctors had alerted him shortly before 6 a.m. to say the end was near, according to the palace.
Prince Albert is unmarried and has no children. In 2002, the principality, best known as a tax haven for the world's rich, changed its succession law to permit 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.
Born May 31, 1923, Rainier Grimaldi was the 30th descendant of Otto Canella, who founded the house of Grimaldi that has ruled Monaco since 1297. The son of a princess born out of wedlock, Rainier was heir to a family with a stormy past – a tradition that has been upheld, especially by his youngest child, Stephanie, whose love life has been tabloid fodder since she was in her teens.
Rainier met Grace Kelly in May 1955 when he was 31 and she was 25 and the star attraction of the nearby Cannes Film Festival. They announced their engagement the following January and were married in April. Ten months later they had the first of their three children, Caroline. Albert's birth came the following year, and Stephanie's in 1965.
Monaco took on the aura of a magical kingdom, thanks to its Princess Grace – only the golden days ended with her death in a car crash on Sept. 14, 1982.
"She was always present and ready to do things either with me or for me if I couldn't do them," Rainier said of his late wife in 1983, as quoted by the Associated Press. "Let's say the change is that we worked as a team and the team has been split up."