Authorities in China say Norodom Sihanouk, highly revered as Cambodia’s ruler since 1941, died of natural causes early Monday in Beijing. He was 89.
“Our former King died at 2:00 a.m. early Monday in Beijing due to natural cause,” Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Nhik Bun Chhay told Xinhua over telephone. “This is a great loss for Cambodia. We feel very sad. The former king was a great king that we all respect and love him.”
According to UPI, Chinese doctors had been treating Sihanouk years for various forms of cancer, diabetes and hypertension.
Born in 1922, Sihanouk was an only child whose parents were estranged. He was educated in Saigon and Paris, and came to the throne at the young age of 18, BBC reports.
As king, Sihanouk saw Cambodia go from French rule to independence, then to the brutal Khmer Rouge regime and the guerrilla war that followed its toppling. He then watched his country develop into the constitutional monarchy it is today.
“The whole Cambodian people will mourn his death,” Prince Sisowath Thomico, a royal family member and advisor to the current king, said. “Most of all, he will be remembered as the father of Cambodian independence.”
In addition to king, Sihanouk held numerous posts, including prime minister, president, and leader of various governments-in-exile before being appointed constitutional monarch in 1993.
He was succeeded in 2004 by his son, King Norodom Sihamoni.
Aside from politics, Bloomberg writes that Sihanouk was a keen musician and produced and directed over 20 films — all about Cambodia.
“He has made 21 movies. But not only is my father a filmmaker, but he is a great politician, even unique … and also great French cuisine amateur, great musician, composer. No one can imitate my royal father,” another of Sihanouk’s sons, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, is quoted as saying by VOA.
CNN notes that Cambodia’s “royal government” will bring the late king’s body back to his homeland for a traditional funeral.