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IRAN: Royal suicide reminds many of Pahlavi era and errors

January 5, 2011 |  9:03 am

Iran-pahlavi-apSince their exile following the 1978-79 Islamic Revolution and the death of their patriarch that same year, the family of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi has captured the public's imagination as only fallen royalty can.

On Wednesday, Iranians mourned the loss of another member of the royal family, Alireza Pahlavi, the youngest son of the former monarch.

The 44-year-old former prince apparently killed himself Tuesday night after a long bout with depression.

Exiles who either supported the shah or at least thought fondly of the freewheeling period before the revolution have been the most vocal in their mourning. But even some inside Iran have expressed sympathy for the family, despite the shah's brutal legacy of cracking down on his political opponents.

It was the former ruling family's second loss in recent years. Alireza's sister, Leila, died of a drug overdose in a London hotel room a decade ago.

"We have experienced the past 32 years and realized that former regime was much better than this Islamic regime," said 56-year-old Ali, who lives in Tehran. "I also feel sympathy for [former Empress Farah Pahlavi] as a mother who has lost her two children. I lost the future of my country and she lost her children, country and dynasty."

Iran-pahlavi-tabnakBoth Leila and Alireza lived gilded lives in exile. Leila shuttled between London and New York, modeling for top designers, before her 2001 death, which was widely thought to be a suicide. Alireza, who drove himself around Boston in a Porsche, studied music and Persian history at Princeton, Columbia and Harvard but was reportedly deeply affected by the death of his sister.

Reactions on Facebook and other online forums were mixed. Many expressed condolences to the family but distanced themselves from the politics of the shah's era.

News of the suicide broke late Tuesday night after most of Iranian newspapers were put to bed. But the tone of the state-sanctioned media reports on Wednesday appeared to be one of subdued glee. Tabnak, a news website considered close to former Revolutionary Guard commander and presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai, ran the story under the headline "Another Pahlavi Commits Suicide" next to a graphic featuring the silhouette of a man holding a gun to his head.

Alef, a news site owned by conservative lawmaker Ahmad Tavakkoli, ran the story under the headline "Serial Suicides Continue in Pahlavi's Family" along with the picture of the Boston townhouse where he resided. 

Outlets close to the Iranian opposition have been mute on Alireza's death, perhaps feeling vulnerable to accusations of royalist nostalgia.

Though the shah is remembered fondly by mostly wealthy Iranian monarchists living abroad in Paris, London and Los Angeles, he also is remembered by some as a brutal autocrat who maintained his grip on the "Peacock Throne" by cracking down violently on popular opposition to his rule with the backing of American intelligence services.

Alireza is survived by his older brother, Reza Pahlavi, who has been the family's public face. Reza's official website announced the death of "prince" Alireza, who, "like millions of young Iranians," was "deeply disturbed by all the ills fallen upon his beloved homeland, as well as carrying the burden of losing a father and a sister in his young life."

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Alireza Pahlavi at Prince Rainier III's funeral procession in 2005 in Monaco. Credit: Lionel Cironneau / Associated Press

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