BANGKOK – King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, the world’s longest-serving monarch who ruled the kingdom for seven decades and earned the respect and veneration from the vast majority of Thais, died on Thursday in Bangkok.
The Thai prime minister General Prayut Chan-Ocha said in a press conference that he had met with heir to the throne Prince Vajiralongkorn, 64, who had communicated his desire to join the Thai nation in a period of mourning before being crowned as the successor.
Bhumibol was born on December 5, 1927 in the United States, the second son of Prince of Songkla, Mahidol Adulyadej, and Princess Srinagarindra, Mom Sawal.
The family returned to Thailand in 1929 and Bhumibol’s father, who had studied medicine, was in poor health and died a year later.
After a brief period at Mater Dei Catholic school, Bhumibol moved to Switzerland, where he lived until after World War II, except for a brief visit to Thailand in 1938.
During that time, Bhumibol’s older brother Ananda Mahidol was declared heir to the throne in 1935 after the abdication of his uncle Rama VII.
Ananda’s reign was brief: he returned to Thailand in 1945 and died the following year.
Bhumibol was elected successor and after leaving the regency to his uncle, Prince Rangsit of Chainat, he returned to Switzerland, where he began studying science.
At that time he frequently visited Paris, where he met his future wife Sirikit Kitiyara Rajawongse, a distant cousin and daughter of the then Thai ambassador in France: “a girl of 15 years, sweet and without an air of superiority” who studied music and French, according to the king’s official biography.
They grew closer when Sirikit became a frequent visitor of the sovereign during his convalescence in a hospital in Lausanne following a traffic accident that cost him the sight of his right eye.
They were married on April 28, 1950 in Thailand and seven days later, Bhumibol was crowned king.
The young king began to develop interests in rural development projects and social welfare during the 1950s and 1960s, when military governments followed.
On Fridays, the monarch often relaxed with his band Aw Saw and other musicians. These occasions eventually became musical evenings that were broadcast on the Crown’s radio station.
From 1963, after the death of General Sarit Thanarat, the king began to interject political commentary into his public speeches.
He faced the first test of his authority and statesmanship in 1973, when he responded to the massacre of students demonstrating against the military government.
Royal intervention ended the violence in the streets and the then Prime Minister, General Thanom Kittikachorn, went into exile and gave way to a democratic period that did not last long.
A military coup protected by the king ended the democratic experiment in 1976, a time when communism was flourishing in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Military coups took place in each of the next three decades: in 1977, 1980, 1981, 1985 and 1991.
The role played by the king in the 1992 crisis is recorded in official Thai history as the exemplification of his reign, as he mediated between coup leader General Suchinda Krapayoon and the democratic movement, ending the bloody repression and paving the way for elections to be held.
Another key moment came in 1997 during the Asian financial crisis, when the king supported the burgeoning democratic movement and spoke out publicly against another military coup.
Bhumibol’s reign celebrated its sixtieth anniversary in 2006, the same year that the military coup ousted tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra and started a crisis that still affects the country.
The monarch has been surrounded by a team of doctors since 1995, and has been operated on twice for cardiovascular problems.
The sovereign lived hospitalized from 2009 to 2013, leaving four children with Queen Sirikit: Princesses Ubol Ratana, Sirindhorn and Chulabhorn, and Prince Vajiralongkorn, heir to the throne.
He spoke French and English fluently, and his two greatest passions were civil engineering and music, particularly jazz. He composed several jazz songs that were helped by his remarkable talent in clarinet and saxophone.
Bhumibol was an amateur painter and enthusiast photographer, and the author of several books. He also translated several books, including the biography of the Yugoslav president “Tito” by author Phillis Auty, and “A Man Called Intrepid” by the novelist William Stevenson.
Rama IX “the Great” embodied the ten moral principles of kings following Buddhist traditions: charity towards the poor, morality, making selfless sacrifices for the greater good, honesty, courtesy, self-control, peaceful temperament, not harming others, patience and impartiality, according to the official biography “King Bhumibol: The Strength Of The Nation.”