Monaco’s Prince Rainier dies

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MONACO (AP) – Prince Rainier III, whose fairy-tale marriage to Hollywood star Grace Kelly brought elegance and glamour to one of Europe’s oldest dynasties, died Wednesday, nearly a month after he was hospitalized with a lung infection. He was 81.

The funeral will be held the afternoon of April 15 at the principality’s cathedral, Monaco’s government said, adding that “numerous high foreign and local personalities” are expected to attend.

Europe’s longest-reigning monarch died at 6:35 a.m. from heart, kidney and lung problems at the hospital overlooking Monaco’s glittering, yacht-filled harbor, the palace said. His only son, Prince Albert, was at his side, it said.

The body of Rainier, whose family dynasty took power in 1297, was moved to his hilltop palace where it will in lie in state, the palace said.

The Mediterranean enclave’s famed Monte Carlo casino closed its doors Wednesday in a sign of respect.

“Each of us feels like an orphan because the principality has been marked by his imprint over the 56 years” of his reign, said Patrick Leclercq, head of government in the principality of 32,000 people.

Rainier’s doctors had called Albert about 30 minutes beforehand to tell him the end was near, the palace said. The palace declined to say if Rainier’s daughters, Princesses Caroline and Stephanie, were with him when he died.

With Rainier’s death, Albert took the title of Prince Albert II.

The only son of Rainier and Princess Grace, Albert becomes Monaco’s de facto ruler until a formal investiture expected after a mourning period. He took over the royal powers last week after a royal commission decided Rainier was too sick to rule.

The unmarried Albert, who has no children, inherits a French-speaking principality smaller than New York’s Central Park but renowned for its casinos and the annual Monte Carlo Grand Prix.

Monaco changed its succession law in 2002 to allow power to pass from a reigning prince who has no descendants to his siblings. Albert’s sisters have children.

Rainier, who assumed the throne on May 9, 1949, had to endure the tragedy of his wife’s death and relentless scandals that plagued the final two decades of his rule.

The leader of Europe’s longest-ruling royal family, the Grimaldis, Rainier suffered recurring health problems in recent years. The silver-haired, portly prince underwent heart surgery in 1999 and had two operations the following year.

Recurrent chest infections put him in the hospital on numerous occasions. Most recently, he was hospitalized March 7. He was placed in intensive care two weeks later with heart and kidney failure and connected to a respirator.

Tributes flooded in.

“Prince Rainier remained dearly loved by his people and deeply respected by his peers as well as the world community,” said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

French President Jacques Chirac hailed the prince’s “courage and tenacity” in the face of his failing health.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said: “The affection felt by the people of Ireland for Prince Rainier and his family was of course strengthened by admiration for the late Princess Grace, and pride in her Irish heritage.”

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II sent a message of condolence to the family. Rainier’s death means the queen, who acceded to the throne in 1952, becomes the longest-serving monarch in Europe.

Flags, already lowered out of respect for Pope John Paul II, who died Saturday, remained at half-staff.

Odette Sainsaulieu, a 66-year-old Monegasque retiree, came to the hospital because she wanted to see his body and his family. “I came to say a final goodbye,” she said.

She and other residents wondered whether what they see as a five-decade golden era would survive.

“It was a life, a way of living, of managing the principality,” she said.

Under Rainier’s leadership, the Mediterranean coastal enclave nestled between Italy and the French Riviera partially shed its image as “a sunny place for shady people” and became a hub for the high-tech pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Rainier was known as the “builder prince” for his many infrastructure projects. He increased the size of his territory by 20 percent with land reclamation.

“I am like the head of a company,” he once said.

In 1993, Monaco gained the political recognition Rainier sought for his principality with its entry into the United Nations.