Reel Reviews

Death of a Princess - The Story of Grace Kelly's Fatal Car Crash

Grace KellyFew princesses live happily ever after. And few fairy tales ever end up quite as imagined. This was surely the case with film actress Grace Kelly who would marry into European royalty before eventually meeting her untimely demise on a hilly Monaco roadside. Behind Grace’s regal façade was an imperfect (but never dull) reality that would eventually shatter the fairy tale-like existence the world thought they knew. In fact, film director Alfred Hitchcock had seen glimpses of the beautiful Hollywood leading lady’s dark side, and once described her as a “snow-capped volcano – full of fire under the ice.“

Never Enough

Born November 12, 1929 to Jack Kelly, a wealthy Philadelphia construction contractor (and former Olympic champion) and his wife Margaret, Grace Patricia Kelly was constantly forced to vie for her father’s attention amongst her three other siblings. Her father, a self-made man, exuded extreme confidence and never failed to dominate anyone around him… including his children. Even an eventual Oscar win, didn’t seem to garner her father’s attention. When asked the morning after his daughter’s Oscar win for her role in 1954’s THE COUNTRY GIRL, Jack Kelly reportedly replied, “I though it would be Peggy. Anything Grace could do, Peggy could always do better. I simply can’t believe Grace won. Of my four children, she’s the last one I’d expect to support me in my old age.”

Her Education
American Academy od Dramatic Arts - Grace KellyAs a teenager, Grace would attend a nearby convent school run by the Sisters of Assumption. At the age of 14, the shy, young girl would then move on to Stevens Academy in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania where one of her instructors would recall, “she really wasn’t interested in scholastic achievement – she gave priority to drama and boys.” Apparently that was a very astute observation!

To Europe and Then New York
Foregoing college, young Grace would instead choose a trip to Europe and then enrollment in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Her skeptical parents (who had to pull some strings for the prestigious school that counts Gene Tierney, Kate Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Kirk Douglas amongst its alumni) agreed to only pay for one year’s tuition. To pay her own way, the industrious Grace found work fashion modeling and was even selected as cover girl for several publications. She lived at the Barbizon Hotel for Women on 63rd Street. Oh, and by the way, she began to have an affair with a 27-year-old Academy instructor (which was disapproved of by her parents not because of the age difference, or because he was married… but rather because he was Jewish.)

Grace Hits the Big Time
Country Girl - Grace KellyGrace’s acting abilities began to gain notice as she performed in many TV and live performances, including her Broadway debut as Raymond Massey’s daughter in THE FATHER (1949). She would get a pretty big break in the early ‘50s when she took on the role of the Quaker wife to ex-marshal Gary Cooper in HIGH NOON in 1952. The movie (and Grace Kelly) became a hit. But so did Grace Kelly and Gary Cooper as an item. Not only was the Hollywood leading man 28 years her senior, he was also married. Though the flame only lasted a short while, a bold pattern of liaisons would begin to emerge. After returning to Broadway, Grace would continue her romance with actor Gene Lyons. She then moved on briefly to Clark Gable whom she met while filming MOGAMBO in 1953. During the shooting of DIAL M FOR MURDER she dabbled in Ray Milland, and later, fashion designer Oleg Cassini, French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, Bing Crosby and William Holden. See a pattern emerging? But for her on-camera skills in THE COUNTRY GIRL, Grace would win an Academy Award in 1955.

Cannes and The Prince
Princess Grace and Prince RanierGrace Kelly attended the Cannes Film Festival in May 1955. Actress Olivia de Havilland’s fashion mag editor husband, Pierre Galante would eventually cobble together the meeting between Grace Kelly and the 31-year-old Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Facing middle age and a slight weight problem, the pudgy prince decided he needed a wife and heirs to his throne. Consequently, Grace Kelly had become tired of the Hollywood grind and of her MGM contract (poor thing!). After accepting a $2 million dowry from the Kelly’s, on January 5, 1956, the Prince would ask the beautiful actress to marry him. The couple was married four months later on April 18, 1956. The wedding was watched on television by an estimated 30 million people. Grace Kelly was now Princess Grace of Monaco.

The End of a Career
Not only did her wedding mark the beginning of a life of luxuriant royalty, more importantly it was the end of her film and acting career. Grace would eventually give birth to three children: Caroline, Albert (future heir to the throne of Monaco), and Stephanie. Grace Kelly played the role of princess well for 25 years… at least on the outside. That flaming monster of love for some “strange” would rear its ugly head many times throughout the years however, and resulted in numerous extra-marital affairs, including a “thing” with such luminaries as David Niven and even Frank Sinatra. Not to be left out though, ‘ol Princy himself was rumored to have swung the club from time to time as well.

Grace eventually began to miss her acting career and would try to revive it. She accepted the lead in Hitchcock’s MARNIE, but was eventually replaced by Tippi Hedron. In 1976 she joined the board of directors of Twentieth Century-Fox. She wanted back in the movie game but the Rainier’s always said “Uh, no.”

That Day in September
On the morning of September 13, 1982, Princess Grace and her daughter Stephanie were to head back to Monaco from their vacation residence, Roc Agel. They loaded the Rover SD-1 (corrected as Rover P6 3500V8 *) with luggage and prepared for the 35-minute drive back to town. The car was so packed full of belongings, Princess Grace suggested to the  chauffeur that she would drive them by herself… bad decision!

Grace Kelly Crashed CarAt 9:30 in the morning, with Stephanie in the passenger seat and Princess Grace behind the wheel, the car would set out down a narrow, treacherous and windy road, CD37 (Route de La Tourbie). Contrary to popular belief, this was not the same road on which she drove in her 1955 movie, TO CATCH A THIEF. How ironic would that have been? Anyway, ten minutes into the drive things would go horribly awry.

A motorist driving behind the Princess’s vehicle would report seeing the Rover swerving erratically back and forth. The concerned observer would honk several times to get the attention of what he assumed to be a drunk or sleepy driver. As Princess Grace’s car approached a hairpin curve in the road known as "Devil’s Curse,” it suddenly accelerated to well over 50 m.p.h. The car crashed through the stone barrier before careening down the 120-foot hillside, clipping the tops of the trees as it lurched its way down the slope.  A local gardener heard the accident and upon reaching the scene, noticed the wrecked vehicle had struck a tree near the bottom of the hill and rested near a pile of rocks. The good Samaritan observed that Stephanie had extricated herself from the car and was yelling to help get her mother out of the vehicle. “Help, my mother! My mother is in there! Get her out!” The unconscious Grace was removed by smashing the vehicle’s rear window.

Princess Grace and Stephanie were taken to a local hospital in Monaco for treatment for their injuries. Reports say that Monaco Hospital (later renamed Centre Hospitalier Princesse Grace - Princess Grace Hospital Center), where the injured survivors were taken, was not well equipped for these types of injuries. Surgery was performed on Grace’s lungs to stop the internal bleeding. Her other injuries included multiple fractures of the collar bone, thigh, and ribs. A CAT scan revealed that shortly before the accident, Grace had suffered a stroke which rendered her unable to control the vehicle. Fearing that the princess may survive as a helpless invalid, the royal palace attempted a cover up of the extent of her injuries. But at 10:30 p.m. on September 14, 1982, Princess Grace was taken off her life-support equipment and she passed on to the next plane. She was 52-years-old.

In State
The body of Princess Grace would lay in state in her open coffin until September 18, when a funeral was conducted in the same cathedral where she was married 26 years earlier. On September 21, Princess Grace of Monaco was laid to rest in the Grimaldi family vault in St. Nicholas Cathedral. Her marble slab is inscribed with the words, “Grace Patricia, wife of Prince Rainier III, died the year of our Lord, 1982.”

The car was crushed into a small cube, taken out to sea and allowed to sink to the bottom of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea.

UPDATE: *Thanks to Morbidly Hollywood© friend Davie B., we've updated the story to reflect that Princess Grace was indeed driving a Rover P6, not an SD-1 as was originally reported.

UPDATE: Morbidly Hollywood friend Bill S. gave us the following information - I just somehow linked to your site, and read the Princess Grace death story

Having been involved in various tasks watching over national events, I wanted to add something. She deserves to have the main part of the history presented.

What is left out is the main political scandal in Europe at that time. Two weeks prior to her death, a membership list of the infamous oligarchic P2 Lodge became public. The Italian government collapsed when many of the leaders names were discovered to be on it. It was known by intelligence groups to be a secret collection of nation destroying oligarchs, which spanned numerous countries. The chairman of the P2 Lodge was her husband Prince Ranier, of Monaco. Princess Grace was a moral woman I think. Perhaps things she had ignored in the past suddenly seemed to have more weight. Perhaps she intended to do the moral thing. To get away from him for a start, not trusting the chauffeur of the prince, since he would naturally spy on her for the prince.

More Grace Kelly Stuff:

Devils Curse where grace kelly crashed
The hairpin curve, "Devil's Curse" where Grace Kelly plowed her car through the barrier and down the embankment.

 

Devils Curse where grace kelly crashed - aerial view
Aerial view of "Devil's Curse."

 

Map of where grace kelly crashed

Contrary to popular belief and counter to what would have made a much more juicy urban legend, Grace Kelly did not crash on the same bit of roadway as where she drove in the 1955 film To Catch a Thief. In fact, the two are actually several miles from each other.

*Click map to enlarge

 

Devils Curse where grace kelly crashed
The steep embankment below "Devil's Curse." Kelly's car would come to a halt at the bottom of the hill.

 

Grace Kelly Crash Site Memorial
Boulevard Princesse Grace De Monaco.

 

Rover p6 3500V8 - Grace Kelley
A Rover P6 3500 V8, probably very similar to the one Princess Grace was driving when she suffered a stroke and drove it off the hillside.

 

To Catch a Thief - Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955). In the film, Grace was driving a stretch of road very close to the actual location of her eventual fatal accident.

 

Princess Grace Funeral
Princess Grace's coffin being carried into St. Nicholas Cathedral.

 

Grave Grace Kelly
Where Grace Kelly is buried.

 

Ranier Palace - Grace Kelly
The Rainier Palace in Monaco. Sweet digs, huh?

 

St. Nicholas Cathedral
St. Nicholas Cathedral, where Grace Kelly was married and where she is buried.

 

Rainier Kelly Wedding
Wedding ceremony of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III, of Monaco.

 

Rainier Royal Family
The Rainier Royal Family. (l-r Caroline, Prince Rainier, Grace, Albert, and Stephanie. Imagine the thoughts rambling behind those pregnant smiles!

 

Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly with James Stewart and Bob Hope.

 

Grace Kelly Manhattan House
The Manhattan House at 200 East 66th Street. Grace Kelly Once Lived Here.

 

Grace Kelly Manhattan House
And here.

 

Grace Kelly with her 1955 Oscar
Grace Kelly posing with her 1955 Best Actress Oscar for THE COUNTRY GIRL.

 

grace Kelly
Grace Patricia Kelly. What a looker, huh?

 

Grace Kelly

 

Grace Kelly and Cary Grant

 

Grace Kelly

 

Grace Kelly's 1955 Oscar acceptance speech for her performance in COUNTRY GIRL. Class, even under pressure!

 

Grace Kelly Biography on A&E Biography.

Grace Kelly External pages:

The Grace Kelly Wikipedia page.

Grace Kelly's Film Career Information over at IMDB.COM.

Grace Kelly Online - A nice little Grace Kelly Tribute site.

With Absolute Grace - The Official Grace Kelly Fanlisting.

More fun stuff on the death of Grace Kelly over at Findadeath.com

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