Fairy Tale's Final Chapter

Princess Grace Kelly waves to cheering crowds lining the road as she rides in an open car with Prince Rainier III following their marriage in a religious wedding ceremony in the Monaco Cathedral, South of France, April 19, 1956. AP

Their romance captivated the world — an American movie queen, a European prince, and their enchanted life in a hilltop palace overlooking the Mediterranean.

The mystique of Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly endured the two decades since her tragic death, in part because the 81-year-old ruler never remarried and filled his tiny principality with countless memorials to the woman he loved.

Correspondent Jerry Bowen examines their lives, on CBS News Sunday Morning.

Some saw Rainier's ailing health as the final chapter in the fairy tale of Monaco — a subject that draws a mixture of sadness and smiles in the place where it all started.

"Princess Grace is still here. I can't explain it," said Nathalie Ponsenard, 40, who teaches at a nursery school not far from the royal palace. "She was just magical, full of warmth and generosity and humanity."

Here in Monaco, those of a certain age recount fondly how Princess Grace would take her children biking along the seaside or would wave and say, "Bonjour," in reply to passersby.

Though she never returned to the screen after her 1956 marriage to Rainier, the actress brought her elegance and charm to the role of princess. And the world took note.

"The day Prince Rainier married Princess Grace — one of the world's most famous and beautiful women — was the day Monaco was born on the international stage," said Vincent Weylan, chief editor of the royalty division of Point de Vue magazine, a French weekly that focuses on Europe's royalty.

Many here speak of 1982, the year of her tragic car accident and death, as a time of national sadness. The fact that Rainier remained alone all these years is seen by some of his subjects as a testament to his love. Experts agree.

"He never really got over her death. It was an irreparable loss," said Philippe Delorme, a French biographer of Rainier. "It would have been very hard to replace her."

On the 20th anniversary of her death in 2002, the royal palace published a glossy book in honor of the late princess, filled with pictures of the royal couple. Rainier himself penned the preface.

"Twenty years after her disappearance, Princess Grace is always present in our hearts and in our thoughts," the prince wrote. He praised her for "carrying out to perfection her role as spouse and mother."

Grace's widower helped to keep her memory alive.

Along the coast by the elegant Monte Carlo casino is Princess Grace Avenue; down by Monaco's yacht-filled harbor is the Princess Grace Library; and, outside the hospital where Rainier was clinging to life on a respirator Friday is the Princess Grace Theater.

At the 19th century Monaco Cathedral, where Princess Grace was laid to rest beside Rainier's three predecessors, hers is the only grave permanently honored with fresh flowers.

It was at the cathedral on April 18, 1956, that the couple was married, in what was called at the time the "wedding of the century."

Precisely where the fairy tale began is where it will end. Beside her tomb is an empty slab of marble waiting to be engraved with the prince's name.

"The end of Prince Rainier will certainly be the end of an era for Monaco. But it is larger than that," said Weylan. Most of Europe's royal elders who witnessed the historic events of the last century have died, including the queen mothers of England and Denmark, the father and mother of the king of Spain.

"It will also be the end of an era for Europe," he said.

The heir to Rainier's throne is his son, 47-year-old Prince Albert, who is unmarried and has no children. He took over Monaco's royal powers on Thursday, assuming all but the throne in the tiny principality after a royal commission decided his critically ill father was too sick to perform his duties.

  • Brian Dakss

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