A star of the silver screen who became a real-life princess died tragically in a car accident 35 years ago today.
The fairytale story of Grace Kelly, the beautiful Hollywood star who fell in love with and married the handsome Prince Rainier III of Monaco, had captivated the world. Her sudden death at the age of just 52 was mourned by millions of fans.
Born in Philadelphia to a wealthy and influential family, Grace Kelly first acted, danced and modelled while still in high school. Despite her parents’ initial disapproval, she resolved to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and gained a place at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, working part-time as a fashion model to support her studies.
After graduating, she made her Broadway stage debut in 1949 in a supporting role alongside Raymond Massey. Other stage roles followed and in 1951 she landed her first small role in a feature film, but her big break came in the classic 1952 western “High Noon”, cast as the wife of its lead actor, Gary Cooper. Two years later she won a Best Actress Oscar for her role in “The Country Girl”, playing opposite Bing Crosby, firmly establishing her acting credentials.
Influential director Alfred Hitchcock took a shine to her and cast her in three of his hit thrillers, “Dial M for Murder”, “Rear Window” and “To Catch a Thief”, in which she starred alongside Cary Grant, who would become a lifelong friend.
In 1955 and now a major star, Grace Kelly headed the US delegation to the renowned Cannes Film Festival, on the French Riviera. It was on that trip that she first met Prince Rainier during a visit to Monaco. The two hit it off and began writing to each other after Grace returned to the USA. In December of that year, Prince Rainier flew to America for what was ostensibly an official tour, but while there he met with Grace and her family and, after three days, proposed marriage.
She accepted and when news of the engagement broke it caused a sensation throughout the USA and Europe. Preparations began for what was soon dubbed “the wedding of the century”, with a civil ceremony held in the Palace of Monaco on April 18th, 1956, followed by a lavish religious ceremony in Monaco’s St Nicholas Cathedral the following day. Among the 700 guests were scores of famous people, from film stars and directors to members of Europe’s royal houses.
Some cynics gloomily predicted the hastily-arranged marriage would not last, but the couple were very happy together and had three children, Princess Caroline born in 1957. Prince Albert (the current Prince of Monaco) born the following year, and Princess Stephanie, born in 1965. On becoming Princess Grace of Monaco, she retired from her successful acting career, her final big screen role being in the musical “High Society”, released in 1956 and co-starring Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.
Several attempts were made to lure the now Princess Grace back to the movies, including by Hitchcock who wanted her for the lead role in “Marnie”, but none succeeded. Instead she devoted herself to her new role, supporting her husband in his royal duties and raising their children.
It was on September 14th, 1982, when she was driving her youngest daughter (then 17) along a mountain road near Monaco, that Princess Grace lost control of her 10-year-old Rover 3500 car. It left the road and tumbled 120 feet down the mountainside, overturning several times before coming to rest in a garden. A witness who was driving behind reported seeing the car zigzagging erratically prior to the crash.
When paramedics arrived at the scene, Princess Grace was alive but unconscious in the wreckage, while her daughter appeared to have suffered only minor injuries. At the hospital doctors attempted to resuscitate Princess Grace, but she had sustained serious injuries including a brain haemorrhage. She died the following night just before 11 pm.
Tests also revealed that Princess Stephanie had suffered a hairline fracture of her cervical vertebra and she was unable to attend her mother’s state funeral, held four days later in the same cathedral where she had married.
Initially it had been thought the crash was caused by the car’s brakes failing, but tests on the wreckage showed the car had been in good condition prior to the accident. Instead, doctors believed Princess Grace had suffered a minor stroke while driving, causing her to lose control of the car. Her husband, Prince Rainier, never remarried and was eventually buried alongside his beloved wife following his death in 2005, at the age of 81.