Prince Rainier Grimaldi was born on May 31, 1923, in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Initially considered a playboy prince, he took control of the country in 1949 and built Monaco into an international playground for the wealthy. He enjoyed what was positioned as a fairy-tale marriage with American movie star Grace Kelly. After Kelly’s tragic death in 1982, Rainier buried himself in his work. He died at age 81 of lung and heart disease.
Prince Rainier was born in the small city-state of Monte Carlo, Monaco on May 31, 1923, the son of Princess Charlotte, Duchess of Valentinois, and Prince Pierre de Polignac. His heritage dates back to 1297 when his adventurous Genoese ancestors seized control of the rocky, narrow strip of land along the French Riviera.
Schooled in Switzerland and Britain, Prince Rainier eventually received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Montpellier, in France. In 1944, he joined an artillery unit in the Free French Army and fought Nazi occupation. He was decorated for valor and after the war assigned to the French military unit in Berlin.
Ascending to the Throne
On May 9, 1949, Prince Rainier took control of Monaco, succeeding his grandfather, Prince Louis II. Monaco was near bankrupt and had lost its luster through neglect and scandal. In addition, much of Europe’s wealth had been lost during World War II and there was little left to gamble at the legendary casino, Monaco’s main source of income.
Rainier was reputed to be a spoiled playboy prince, fond of fast cars and pretty women. However, he proved his detractors wrong when he set out to modernize the country with the help of Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Rainier promoted Monaco as a tax haven and international tourist attraction. He also revived the Grand Prix de Monaco, one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world. By 1964, he regained control of the principality’s business dealings and revived its commercial and real estate markets. By the mid-1960s, he and Onassis had parted ways.
On April 19, 1956, Prince Rainier married American actress Grace Kelly after a whirlwind romance. The couple met at a palace photo shoot and tour while Kelly was attending the Cannes Film Festival. They had three children—Princess Caroline, Prince Albert II and Princess Stephanie. What was positioned as a fairy-tale marriage further established Monaco’s reputation as a glamorous playground for the world’s elite.
The enchanted image was shattered in September, 1982, when a car Princess Grace was driving plunged over a cliff in the hills above Monaco. Initially believed to be a mechanical failure, it was later determined the princess suffered a stroke. Also in the car was her daughter, Princess Stephanie, who sustained serious injury.
After his wife’s death, Prince Rainier never remarried. Instead, he threw himself into his work and royal duties. His children grew up facing scandals of their own through much of their youth and early adulthood. In the final years of his life, Rainier suffered from numerous health-related problems, fueled by his three-pack-a-day cigarette habit. He died on April 6, 2005 at Monaco's Cardiothoracic Center. His son Prince Albert was at his side.
In May 2014, the film Grace of Monaco premiered at Cannes, starring Nicole Kidman and Tim Roth, portraying the marriage of Kelly and Prince Rainier in 1962. The royal family has issued an official statement heavily critiquing the work, labeling it as historical distortion.
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