Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej turned 84 years old yesterday. He’s been the king since 1946 — that’s more than 65 years on the throne. Who’s the second longest-reigning monarch?
That would be Queen Elizabeth II, of course. She’s been a monarch for 60 years this coming February.
Queen Elizabeth seems to be in fine health, but King Bhumibol Adulyadej (also known as Rama IX) has been in the hospital for the last two years. Still, he managed to appear in public and make a five minute speech.
And here’s a story about a new book on the Thai monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work. The title refers to the king’s efforts to reach out to Thailand’s poor. He’s always been known as more “of the people” than his predecessors, and in his younger days made many trips out to see his subjects, almost always with the same stoic face.
Once asked by a villager why he never smiled, the king replied, “I don’t have to; my wife does it for me.”
His wife is Queen Sirikit. They’ve been together since she was a teenager, and married since 1950. They fell in love in Switzerland, where Bhumibol was a student. A student in Lausanne who would drive to Paris for fast cars and hot jazz.
One of those fast cars didn’t work quite as expected in 1948, and the young king had a car crash that hurt his back and damaged one of his eyes. While he was recuperating he was tended to by young Sirikit, who was one of the many young women sent by their families to where the young king was a student.
Although he’s a champion of poor people, King Bhumibol Adulyadej sits on enormous wealth. According to King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work, the royal family is worth more than $40 billion. That is, the monarchy as an institution is worth that much; the treasure does not belong to the king personally.
The king’s birthday is a big deal in Thailand, as the king is the “heavenly embodiment” of the nation. And this king has quite a story. Read the Who2 biography of Bhumibol Adulyadej to find out more.