Dubai | Iranian Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, the twin sister of the country’s deposed shah whose glamorous life epitomized the excesses of her brother’s rule, has died after decades in exile. She was 96. Many in Iran before the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution believed Princess Ashraf served as the true power behind her brother, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and pushed him into taking power in a 1953 coup engineered by the US. Immortalised in her royal prime by an Andy Warhol portrait with bright red lips and raven-black hair, Princess Ashraf’s years out of power more resembled a Shakespearean tragedy.
Assassins killed her son on a Paris street just after the Islamic Revolution, her twin brother died of cancer shortly after, while a niece died of a 2001 drug overdose in London and a nephew killed himself in Boston 10 years later. Still, she always defended her brother’s rule and held onto her royal past. At night, when I go into my room, that’s when all the thoughts come flooding in, the princess told The Associated Press in a 1983 interview in Paris. I stay up until 5 or 6 in the morning. I read, I watch a cassette, I try not to think. But the memories won’t leave you. Reza Pahlavi, a son of the shah, announced his aunt’s death in a Facebook post last night. Her personal website said she died Thursday, without elaborating.
A longtime adviser to Princess Ashraf in New York could not be immediately reached for comment Friday. Born October 26, 1919, Princess Ashraf was the daughter of the monarch Reza Shah, who came to power in a 1921 coup engineered by Britain and later was forced to abdicate the throne after a 1941 invasion by Britain and Russia. By 1953, America helped orchestrate the coup that overthrew Iran’s popularly elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, over fears he was tilting toward the Soviet Union. That brought her brother to power and set the stage for decades of mistrust between the countries. But the shah was a man of indecision, according to a long-classified CIA account of the coup first published by The New York Times in 2000.
To push the coup along, the plotters reached out to the shah’s dynamic and forceful twin sister who already had been in touch with US and British agents, according to the account. After considerable pressure by her and a U.S. general, the shah reportedly agreed. As her brother’s government ruled in opulence and its secret police tortured political activists, Princess Ashraf focused on women’s rights in an appointment to the UN. She traveled widely and became known for gambling on the French Riviera, the French press dubbing her La Panthere Noire, or the Black Panther. She survived a 1977 apparent assassination attempt in Cannes that killed her aide and wounded her chauffer.
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