Britain's Princess Margaret Is Dead

02/09/2002 at 11:00 AM EST

Princess Margaret, 71, the high-living, somewhat testy sister of Queen Elizabeth, died peacefully in her sleep at London's King Edward VII Hospital at 6:30 a.m. Saturday after having suffered a stroke on Friday afternoon and developing cardiac problems during the night, said a statement from Buckingham Palace. Her children, Lord Linley and Lady Sarah, were with her.

Margaret, a heavy smoker who lost a lung in 1985, had suffered a mild stroke exactly three years ago. "The Queen was kept fully informed throughout the night," the palace statement said, explaining that Elizabeth left Sandringham, her Norfolk estate, on Friday for Windsor Castle, where she was kept abreast of her only sibling's condition. Their mother, Queen Mother Elizabeth, 101, who has been in frail health with a persistent cold for several weeks, remained at Sandringham.

"I'm deeply saddened to hear of the death of Princess Margaret," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said. "My thoughts are with the queen, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and the rest of the royal family at this time,"

When last seen in public, at a pre-Christmas royal birthday party, Margaret was confined to a wheelchair and wore heavy dark glasses. It was a sad fate for the onetime playgirl, who was four years younger than her more serious sister.

At the time of their births, Elizabeth's and Margaret's father was the Duke of York, second son of the king. Their father became king when his older brother, the Duke of Windsor, abdicated the throne in 1936 so he could marry the woman he loved, the divorced American Wallis Simpson. Their uncle's exile automatically put "little princess" Elizabeth in line to be ruler of the United Kingdom. Margaret, only 6 at the time, said to her 10-year-old sister: "Does that mean you're going to be queen? . . . Poor you."

By 1952, Margaret's ill-fated romance with handsome -- but divorced -- royal aide Peter Townsend was a major scandal for its time. Nor was her reputation enhanced when, in May of 1978, Margaret became the first divorcee in the queen's immediate family, when she and her husband since 1958, Lord Snowden -- the former Antony Armstrong-Jones, a photographer of great note -- divorced, amid a flurry of rumors of infidelities on both sides. (Their first child, David, was born on Nov. 3, 1961; Lady Sarah, on May 1, 1964.) Although Margaret never remarried, she was romantically linked in the mid- to late-'70s to Roderic "Roddy" Llewellyn, a man of no apparent means some 17 years her junior. That relationship, too, faded away.

In person, Margaret could be "one hip chick," according to legendary jazzman Louis Armstrong. Playwright Noel Coward was also a great friend, and often remarked on her keen sense of humor and her love of gossip. But those who crossed Margaret, who was said to lack the calm and grace of her sister, supposedly would never forgot the icy blue glare she would give them.

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