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Monaco's Prince Rainier dies

By Jim Bittermann CNN

The prince has ruled Monaco since 1949.
• Map:  Monaco
Prince Rainier III
Grace Kelly

MONACO (CNN) -- Prince Rainier III of Monaco, who died on Wednesday aged 81, was one of the world's longest-serving monarchs and ruled one of the smallest countries in the world. He deserves most of the credit for putting and keeping his tiny principality on the international map.

While this speck of land, less than a square mile in area and narrower than New York's Central Park, has belonged to the Grimaldi family for more than seven centuries, it was only when Rainier took the throne in 1949 that the real myth and money-making began.

At first the dashing young prince, who was born on May 31, 1923 used the reflected glamour of the French Riviera to attract growing numbers of tourists to his casinos and hotels.

But it was his whirlwind courtship and eventual marriage to American movie actress Grace Kelly that gave Monaco the glittering image that continues to draw in cruise liners full of visitors even today.

Caroline Pigozzi, of Paris Match magazine, compared the relationship to the "fairytale" marriage of U.S. President John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy at that time.

At first their marriage was very much of a fairytale. The glamorous American, who starred in many of Alfred Hitchcock's iconic films and then became a princess, was both envied and admired.

Her Hollywood connections made Monaco a mandatory stop for the movie crowd, especially in spring when heading for the nearby film festival at Cannes.

Prince Rainier, not always comfortable in public, worked behind the scenes to burnish Monaco's glittering image.

He fought to keep Monaco independent from France and to preserve its status as a tax haven, something that led columnist Art Buckwald to label Monaco "a sunny place for shady people."

'The builder'

Under Rainier, Monaco also joined the United Nations and was even able to reclaim some land from the sea.

Members of the Monaco jet set called Rainier "the builder" for the way he packed the once obscure fishing village, Monte Carlo, with high-rise apartments to shelter and protect the rich.

But in 1982 Monaco's magic came to an end for Prince Rainier. The car carrying his princess plummeted off one of the country's winding roads, and the next day she was dead. There was shock and sorrow around the world, but no more so than in the royal family itself.

At the funeral Prince Rainier repeatedly broke down in tears. The loss of Princess Grace, the pillar of the family, had a great impact on him, and many said the children too.

Caroline and Stephanie were soon making the covers of all the gossip magazines, their lives rich with scandalous behavior and tragic affairs.

Rainier compensated for his loss by throwing himself into his business interests, concentrating on preparing his son Albert to take over the complexities of running the principality.

Succession law changed

But Albert has never married and seems painfully shy, especially when talking about his romantic life.

"There have been some relationships where if they had gone on a little more probably would have headed that way," he once said. "But, I think it's so much your own timing and your own agenda and the person you want to be with."

Monaco changed its succession law in 2002. This means Albert can now assume the throne despite being unmarried with no children or descendants. Under the revised law, power could also be passed from Albert to his siblings, who both have children.

But the real question is whether Monaco itself can prosper in the same way it did under Rainier.

During his lifetime, his critics complained "the builder" overbuilt and never stopped looking for business deals to benefit his family and their tiny principality.

Those who knew him, painted a different picture, that of a shy man who fought during more than a half century in power to turn an undistinguished family fiefdom into a capital of fantasy, wealth, and glamour.

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