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Originally published April 6, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 6, 2005 at 11:51 AM

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Europe's longest reigning monarch , Monaco's Prince Rainier, dies

Prince Rainier III, whose marriage to American film star Grace Kelly brought elegance and glamour to one of Europe's oldest dynasties, died...

The Associated Press

MONACO — Prince Rainier III, whose marriage to American film star Grace Kelly brought elegance and glamour to one of Europe's oldest dynasties, died today at the hospital that was treating him for heart, kidney and breathing problems. He was 81.

Prince Rainier's palace announced his death nearly a full month after he was hospitalized with a lung infection. He had been Europe's longest-reigning monarch.

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

The leader of Europe's longest-ruling royal family, the Grimaldis, Prince Rainier suffered recurring health problems in recent years.

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 high-tech pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Rainier was known as the "builder prince" for his many infrastructure projects, and he increased the size of his territory by 20 percent with land reclamation.

But it was his April 18, 1956, marriage to Grace Kelly that put Monaco on the world stage and defined the golden age of his reign. For many, her death in a car accident on Sept. 14, 1982, signaled 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 a 1983 interview. "Let's say the change is that we worked as a team and the team has been split up."

Prince Rainier was born May 31, 1923. He was the 30th descendant of Otto Canella, who founded the house of Grimaldi, which has ruled Monaco since 1297.

Educated in England, Switzerland and France, Prince Rainier undertook military service near the end of World War II. He became Monaco's ruler at age 26.

He met Grace Kelly in 1955 when he was 31 and she was the 25-year-old star attraction of the Cannes Film Festival. Kelly already had an Oscar from the 1954 film "The Country Girl."

They were married in April 1956. Ten months later they had the first of their three children, Caroline. Albert's birth came the following year, on March 14. Stephanie was born Feb. 1, 1965.

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