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August 31, 1997: Princess Diana's tragic death stuns the world

Princess Diana's death
On this day: Princess Diana dies in Paris car crash 01:25

The late Princess Diana often pleaded with paparazzi to give her a break, but they seldom did. 

After her death on August 31, 1997, the relentless photographers that dogged her every move were “accused of literally chasing her to her death,” reported CBS News’ Randall Pinkston.

Diana, Princess of Wales, was traveling through Paris in a limo with boyfriend Dodi Fayed, the son of an Egyptian millionaire. They were being chased by photographers, and crashed in a tunnel under the Place de l’Alma.

Fayed and their driver, who later tested positive for alcohol and drugs in his system and was driving nearly twice the speed limit, were killed at the scene. The Princess was rushed to a local hospital, and died after two hours of emergency surgery. She was 36. 

Many immediately blamed the paparazzi for going to any means necessary to score a money shot. Just weeks before the accident, tabloids reportedly paid $400,000 for photos of Diana and Fayed vacationing on a yacht.

Diana’s brother Charles Spencer​ called it blood money. 

“It would appear that every proprietor and editor of every publication that has paid for intrusive and exploitative photographs of her, encouraging greedy and ruthless individuals to risk everything in pursuit of Diana’s image, has blood on his hands today,” he said after her death.

Even in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, some paparazzi were looking for their biggest payday yet. The editor of a U.S. tabloid told CBS News that worldwide rights to photos taken of Diana trapped in the wreckage were offered to him for one million dollars.

“We refused to buy those pictures, and we issued a challenge to the world press to follow our lead and for no one to publish these pictures,” he said.

Diana, who was deeply beloved​ in Britain and all over the world, was often referred to as the “People’s Princess.” Nearly one billion people worldwide watched her marriage to Prince Charles​ in 1981​. She was known for her charity work with numerous organizations benefitting children, the homeless, the disabled, and people with HIV/AIDS.

“Millions of others who never met her, but felt they knew her, will remember her,” Queen Elizabeth II​ said to the nation in an address the week after Diana’s death.

Ironically, it was the public’s adoration and fixation on her that drove the tabloids’ rabid coverage. Her marriage to the Prince of Wales​ was plagued with rumors of infidelity from early on, and their divorce in 1996 put a public strain on her relationship with the royal family -- further fueling speculation about her private life. 

As a result, conspiracy theories have surrounded Diana’s death​ almost since the day she was killed. One of the most popular ideas was that the royal family, supposedly embarrassed and angered by the divorce, orchestrated the accident.  

Even Fayed’s father, Mohamed​, accused the British establishment of plotting the death of his son and Diana. 

Another theory suggested The Princess was pregnant with Fayed’s baby when she died, but it was covered up by medical personnel and the government. 

Nearly 20 years after Diana’s death, the media’s interest in the royals​ has not wavered. The on-again-off-again relationship and eventual marriage of her son Prince William to Kate Middleton​, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, was covered every step of the way by the British press. 

Just last year, Kensington Palace issued a warning to the paparazzi​ targeting their toddler son, Prince George.

Diana and Prince Charles’ younger son, Prince Harry​, survived his fair share of scandalous headlines after drunken nights as a teen and young man. Even Kate’s sister Pippa has been pulled into the fray, her love life constantly examined​ by the press.

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