King Constantine II, the last king of Greece, dead at 82

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Jan. 11 (UPI) — Constantine II, the last king of Greece who was forced to give up his throne and leave the country after a short but tumultuous reign in the 1960s, died Tuesday at a hospital in Athens. He was 82 years old.

The former king, who spent 40 years in exile before returning to his homeland a decade ago, had fallen into bad health in recent months and was being treated a second time for COVID-19, which accelerated his decline over the past year.

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He first tested positive for the virus in January 2022, following a battle with pneumonia that put him in the hospital the month before.

Funeral plans were not immediately announced, but the government issued a statement saying Constantine will be buried as a civilian — indicating there would be no formal state honors for the ousted monarch who was stripped of power more than five decades ago.

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Constantine was born into the Greek royal family on June 2, 1940, and named Psikhikó — after the Athens suburb where he was raised.

The Axis powers, led by the Nazis, invaded Greece when Constantine was an infant, and the boy was sent to boarding school in South Africa throughout World War II, and he returned to Greece in 1946, a year after the conflict ended.

Psikhikó was just 7 years old in 1947 when he became the crown prince Constantine, as his father ascended to the throne following the death of his brother, King George II.

The young prince attended prep schools and colleges in Greece and Egypt before becoming a man and serving in several branches of the Greek military. Constantine was also an athlete who won a gold medal as a member of the Greek sailing team during the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome.

About four years later, when his father King Paul died in March 1964, Constantine would inherit the crown only three months before his 24th birthday.

That same year he wed Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark in a ceremony in Athens. The couple had five children, including Prince Pavlos, Princess Alexia, Prince Nikolaos, Princess Theodora and Prince Philippos.

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His sister, Sofia, served as queen of Spain for nearly 40 years between 1975 and 2014.

But only three years after he became king, a bloodless coup forced Constantine and his family to flee the royal palace in Athens, while the new military regime immediately installed a de facto leader in his place.

Six years later, on June 1, 1973, the junta formally abolished the monarchy and designated the country as a republic. Later, however, the military regime was also abolished and replaced by an elected civilian government — a move that received majority support in two national referendums.

The diminished king, who was second cousin to Britain’s King Charles III and godfather to Britain’s Prince William, quietly accepted the will of the people and moved to London, where he lived comfortably for many years, while publicly expressing hope for his eventual return to Greece.

“All I want is to have my home back and to be able to travel in and out of Greece like every other Greek. I don’t have to be in Greece as head of state. I am quite happy to be there as a private citizen,” he told the Sunday Telegraph back in 2000. “Forget the past, we are a republic now. Let’s get on with the future.”

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For decades, however, the Greek government remained at odds with Constantine, and in the 1990s warned the exiled ruler and his family not to set foot in the country unless they complied with a list of demands that included renouncing all rights to his former throne.

The dispute arose after Constantine failed to ever formally recognize the 1974 referendum abolishing the monarchy in Greece, which would have required him to give up his royal title and register as an ordinary citizen.

He paid a surprise visit to Greece with his family in August 1993, causing a public stir and embarrassment to the conservative government in power at the time. The socialists, then in opposition, said the visit was an attempt to sound out public opinion for a possible restoration of the monarchy.

Prior to his surprise trip, Constantine had visited Greece only once since fleeing. He came for a few hours in 1981 to attend the funeral of his mother, Queen Frederika.

Years of differences appeared to dissipate by 2004, when Constantine returned to the country during the 2004 Olympic Summer Games in Athens while he served as a member of the International Olympic Committee. By 2013, he had moved back to Greece, settling in a small villa in Porto Cheli, Peloponnese for several years before making his final home in Athens last spring.

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Constantine is survived by his wife, Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark, whom he married in 1964; and their three sons, Pavlos, Philippos and Nikolaos, and two daughters, Alexia and Theodora.

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Cardinal George Pell

Australian Cardinal George Pell speaks to members of the media at the Vatican in 2017. Pell, whose convictions for sexually abusing a child were eventually overturned, died January 10 at age 81. He suffered complications after a routine hip surgery. Photo by Massimo Percossi/EPA