Grace Kelly was a famous Hollywood actress who became Princess Grace of Monaco and died at age 54 after driving a car off a hilly Monaco road. Her father was Jack Kelly, a wealthy Philadelphia construction contractor who was also a three-time Olympic gold medal winner in rowing. Her brother was also an Olympic rowing champion.
After high school, she studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Her parents did not approve of her becoming an actress, so they paid for only one year’s tuition. She was so beautiful that she easily made the money she needed by modeling.
Her Acting Career
After her schooling, she was immediately able to get jobs in live television and the theater. In 1952 she got a featured part in the movie High Noon, where she was rumored to have spent time with Gary Cooper, a married man 28 years her senior. She also was close to actors Gene Lyons, Clark Gable, and Ray Milland, fashion designer Oleg Cassini, French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, singer Bing Crosby and actor William Holden. Her movie career of 11 films lasted only five years, yet she ranks number one on a list of the most beautiful actresses ever.
Becoming a Princess
At the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, Pierre Galante, the husband of actress Olivia de Havilland, arranged for her to meet Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Three days after meeting her, the 31-year-old cigar smoking and overweight prince proposed marriage to the lady he believed was a good choice to be the mother of his future children.
He certainly was in a hurry to marry. His family, the House of Grimaldi, had ruled Monaco since 1297, but a treaty with France stated that if there was no legitimate heir, Monaco would become part of France. Rainier was running out of time.
Her father gave Prince Rainier $2 million as a dowry and the couple was married on April 18, 1956. Six hundred guests attended and 30 million people watched the televised wedding during which Grace Kelly became Princess Grace of Monaco. The couple had three children: Caroline, Albert and Stephanie.
The media reported rumors of many affairs with other people. Wendy Leigh, in her 2007 book, “True Grace”, claimed that Prince Rainier took at least three mistresses soon after Grace became pregnant during their honeymoon. The book also claimed that Grace had a string of romances before and after the wedding and lists some of the most recognizable names in Hollywood. During her marriage, she accepted an offer by Alfred Hitchcock to return to acting, but did not fulfill the contract.
The Fatal Auto Accident
Nobody really knows what caused Princess Grace’s car crash. However,
in 1989, seven years after the crash, Jeffrey Robinson wrote a book,
“Rainier and Grace: An Intimate Portrait,” in which her daughter is reported to have given the following account of the accident.
On that morning, the chauffeur parked the couples’ green Rover in front of the house to drive Princess Grace and her 17-year old daughter, Stephanie, to take a train to Paris, where Stephanie was going to start school. Almost always the chauffeur drove the car, but the back seat of the car was packed with dresses and large hat boxes, so there were only two seats left in front: one for the driver and one for one passenger. Grace told her chauffeur that she would drive. The chauffeur told her that they could leave the dresses, drive to the train station, and he would go back and pick the dresses up later. Grace drove off and the chauffeur stayed home.
Ten minutes later, she came to a 150 degree bend in the road where you have to turn very hard to the right just to stay on the road. She missed that turn and the Rover slammed through the small retaining wall, and flipped through more than 120 feet of trees.
Stephanie told her sister, Caroline, how the crash occurred. “Mommy kept saying, I can’t stop. The brakes don’t work. I can’t stop.” She said that Mommy was in a complete panic. Stephanie grabbed the hand brake. She told me right after the accident, `I pulled on the hand brake but it wouldn’t stop. I tried but I just couldn’t stop the car.”
Stephanie also said that her mother complained of a headache, and
the car started to swerve, she probably missed the brake and hit the accelerator instead. “A witness to the accident said that he was 50 yards behind the Rover, nearing that very steep, sharp curve, when he saw the Rover swerve violently, zigzagging across both lanes. Then the car straightened out and shot ahead very fast. He knew the road and knew that the bend was coming up and, in those two or three seconds when he didn`t see any brake lights on, he realized what was going to happen.”
The police found no skid marks on the road. Neither Grace nor Stephanie was wearing a seat belt. Grace had a severe cut on her scalp and was found pinned by the steering column into the rear seat. She never woke up. Thirty-six hours after the accident, the life-support equipment was turned off and she died at 52 years of age. Close to 100 million people watched her televised funeral.
Cause of Death
The doctors at the hospital said that special X rays of her brain (CAT scans) showed two hemorrhages: a mild brain hemorrhage, and a second major brain hemorrhage. The doctors claimed that the first hemorrhage was a stroke that caused her to lose control of the car, and the second hemorrhage was caused by the accident that killed her. It took incredible sleuthing for the doctors to claim that she had a stroke before the accident.
Rover engineers who inspected the car found nothing that could have caused the accident. French investigators decided that the accident was caused by Grace passing out and losing control of the car.
Rumors about the cause of her death persist today. Two weeks before she died, the newspapers revealed a list of members of the P2 Lodge, a group of people who were accused of stealing money from the Italian government, banks and even the Vatican. It included prominent leaders of the Italian government, and members of the Mafia. The chairman of the P2 Lodge was Prince Rainier, of Monaco. The Italian government collapsed soon afterwards and some of its leaders were sent to jail. Prince Rainier was quoted as saying: “When the press makes up a story about the Mafia wanting to kill Grace, though I can`t for a moment see why the Mafia would want to kill her . . .”
Princess Grace’s Legacy
Since her death the authors of many books and films have speculated that Princess Grace was very unhappy and lonesome. However, she did have the satisfaction of providing the heir that Prince Rainier III needed to perpetuate the principality of Monaco. Prince Albert succeeded his father, who died in 2005. He is highly regarded as a ruler, particularly for his advocacy of the environment and international sports. Following the Olympic tradition of his medal-winning grandfather and uncle, Albert competed in many sports including rowing, swimming and cross country, and was on the bobsled team in every winter Olympics from Calgary to Salt Lake City. He has been a member of the International Olympic Committee since 1985. He married Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock in 2011 and they are expecting a child in 2014.
Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco
November 12, 1929 – September 14, 1982