Kelly's prince passes at 81

PARIS — Prince Rainier of Monaco, the monarch whose marriage to Grace Kelly gave him a special link with Hollywood, died Tuesday. He was 81.

He had been in hospital for a month battling lung, heart and kidney problems.

In 56 years on the throne — he was Europe’s longest standing monarch — Rainier is credited with transforming the tiny principality from a fading backwater into a modern, thriving haven for the super-rich.

It also became a showbiz haunt after his wedding to Kelly in 1956. The couple met in Monaco while she was shooting “To Catch a Thief” with Cary Grant. Princess Grace died in a car crash in 1982.

The prince also extended a welcoming hand to the international TV biz with the creation of the Monte Carlo TV festival, which hosts its 45th edition this year. However, the annual influx of TV folk has declined following the demise four years ago of the fest’s accompanying television mart.

The principality also recently hosted the fourth Monaco Intl. Cinema and Literature Forum, which was attended by Hollywood book scouts and some of France’s top writers.

In France, Rainier’s death was the top story on leading broadcaster TF1’s Wednesday evening news bulletin, which devoted more than 15 minutes to portraits of the prince and his family, archive footage of Liza Minnelli and other Hollywood stars attending the royal wedding, and reportage on the changing face of Monaco since the 1950s.

French newspapers are expected to follow suit today.

TPS Star, satcaster TPS’ flagship channel announced it would program “To Catch a Thief” Monday night.

However in media terms, Rainier’s passing is likely to be overshadowed by the death days earlier of Pope John Paul II.

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