What Grace Kelly's Funeral Was Really Like

Born in 1929 to a wealthy family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Grace Kelly ultimately abandoned her successful acting career to marry Monaco's Prince Rainier. She lived in the tiny principality for the next 26 years and had three children, Princess Caroline, Prince Albert II, and her youngest Princess Stéphanie, who would be the sole survivor of the car accident that took her mother's life. 

Princess Grace was at the wheel on September 13, 1982, as she and Stéphanie traveled from the family's country home back to the palace in Monaco. She lost control of the 11-year-old Rover at a treacherous hairpin curve and it plunged into a ravine more than a hundred feet below. Initially placed on life support, she was removed from it the next day and declared dead. The citizens of Monaco were devastated at the sudden loss of their beloved princess under such tragic circumstances. She was a glamorous movie star who had lived a real-life fairy tale and was gone far too soon at the age of 52. Her funeral was a somber event that was watched by a worldwide audience estimated to be 100 million people. 

The circumstances surrounding her death sparked rumors

As the world mourned the death of Princess Grace, rumors about the fatal accident began to circulate. Initially, the palace released misleading reports about the extent of her injuries, causing even her family in the United States to be misinformed. "I was led to believe she was out of danger," her brother told reporters at the time (via New York Times). Two physicians who had attended to her were distressed about the palace's press releases as well. ”The communiques were administrative ones, not medical bulletins,” one doctor said and another called them ”garbage" (per Town and Country).

This confusion led to more speculation and additional theories about what might have happened on the day of the accident. These ranged from an alleged cover-up to protect Princess Stéphanie (who many thought may have been driving illegally) to a mafia hit. Though these were all eventually disproven, Princess Stéphanie has endured scrutiny regarding her role in the accident since the day it happened. 

Princess Stephanie did not attend the funeral

Stéphanie tried to stop the car by pulling the hand brake but was unsuccessful. "In fact, I was thrown around inside the car like my mother, who was catapulted onto the back seat ... The passenger door was completely smashed in; I got out on the only accessible side, the driver's," she told Paris Match (via The Guardian). Just 17 years old at the time, she was taken to the Princess Grace Polyclinic along with her mother who never regained consciousness. Princess Grace's official cause of death was a cerebral hemorrhage. Stéphanie was not immediately informed of her mother's passing. 

The young princess' injuries were relatively minor considering the violent nature of the crash. They included a broken thigh, collarbone, and ribs. Prince Rainier elected to have his wife's funeral just four days after her death on September 19, 1982, which made it impossible for Stéphanie to attend as she was still in the hospital recovering. 

Despite her popularity, Prince Rainier opted for a less lavish funeral

Prince Rainier initially wanted a private funeral ceremony for Princess Grace but ultimately realized it would not be possible. So many people wished to pay their respects that approximately 400 guests attended the event.  The service which lasted for approximately 75 minutes, was brief considering her stature and the impact her life and death had on the people of Monaco.  

Prince Rainier opted for an "official funeral," which was decidedly less lavish than a "state funeral" would have been. He reluctantly allowed for the ceremony to be televised, but only after very strict parameters were put in place. The steps leading up to the cathedral were blanketed with floral sprays and there was some pomp and circumstance provided by the Royal Carabinieri, aka the Palace Guard, but largely speaking, it was an understated affair. Prince Albert reflected on his mother's lasting impact several years later, telling People, "It was her warmth, her heart, the humanity people saw in her that they remember."

Monaco closed down on the day of the funeral

Grace Kelly's marriage to Prince Rainier was embraced by the people of Monaco. Her legacy remains intact via the Princess Grace Foundation, which claims that she was also responsible for bringing arts and culture to Monaco. Per The Daily Mail, Prince Albert recognized yet another positive impact that resulted from his mom's presence there. "Even though the union between Rainier and Grace in 1956 was a love match, it also gave the principality a huge boost in terms of glamour," he said.  

Princess Grace thrived in her roles as wife, mother, and patron of numerous charities and cultural events. On the day of her funeral, casinos and shops in Monte Carlo were closed and The New York Times described its residents as looking "sad and confused." Throngs of citizens lined the streets to pay their final respects as her casket was transported to the cathedral. One of Monaco's residents, a taxi driver said, "I only heard the news this morning. It is a cruel blow for Monaco. She was an exemplary lady. Her behavior was magnificent in the streets and at all times. She did a lot for the people of the principality" (via UPI).

Fewer dignitaries were able to attend because the funeral happened so quickly

Because the funeral occurred so quickly after her death, very few dignitaries and movie stars were able to attend. Among them was Princess Diana, just 21 years old at the time. According to tapes that were released after her own death, Princess Diana shared how Prince Charles had been against her attending Princess Grace's funeral. According to Express, however, she persisted. She explains that she told her husband, "Well, I think it's important, because she was an outsider who married into a big family, and I've done the same, so it would feel right." After failing to get his approval, she says she went to Queen Elizabeth who said, "I don't see why not. If you want to do this, you can."

Other notable attendees included Nancy Reagan and Mme. Mitterrand, who was France's first lady at the time. Royalty from several countries including Belgium, Sweden, and Denmark was among the mourners, as were Princess Grace's three siblings. Politicians from her birth state of Pennsylvania were also part of the American delegation. The citizens of Monaco eagerly anticipated the arrival of Hollywood royalty but were largely disappointed. Cary Grant, who starred alongside her in "To Catch A Thief" showed up, but former co-star David Niven could not make it.  

A chance meeting at the funeral resulted in Princess Diana getting a Philadelphia Eagles jacket

Princess Diana received a Philadelphia Eagles jacket after becoming acquainted with the team's statistician at Princess Grace's funeral. Jack Edelstein, who was friends with Princess Grace's brother, met the princess while they were both in Monaco to pay their respects. He recalled casually chatting with her about wine spritzers and his job with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When he told her that the team's colors were green and silver, she revealed that those happened to be her favorite colors as well. Once home, Edelstein made sure to capitalize on the encounter and sent her a package that contained several pieces of the team's merch. He later said, "She sent me a very nice note, how she'd been wearing them around" (per Daily Mail).

In fact, the princess was photographed on numerous occasions wearing the jacket and even appeared on the cover of People Magazine while sporting it. The team's owners were thrilled by the stir it created, of course. It even resulted in one of them having the image enlarged and hung in his office.

The funeral procession was short and somber

Red-plumed helmets of Monaco's carabineers stood solemnly outside of the palace where the gates were draped in black velvet on the morning of Princess Grace's funeral. Flags at half mast bearing black ribbons were additional indicators of the melancholy mood that hung over the city. At about 10:30 am a bugle sounded off to announce the start of the somber procession that began at the palace. The casket, hand-carried by 20 members of the order of the Black Penitents, was followed by Princess Grace's immediate family and her American siblings. Prince Rainier walked the short distance to the cathedral with two of his children.

But for the tolling of the cathedral's bell and soldiers keeping time on black muffled drums, live coverage proved that the streets were nearly silent. Local mourners could be seen making the sign of the cross and wiping their own tears. They looked on as the cortege slowly made its way to Rue Colonel Bellando de Castro where the cathedral is located. 

Princess Grace's family didn't hide their devastation during the service

On the day of Princess Grace's funeral, her family made no attempt to conceal their intense grief as they made their way to the cathedral. The widower, who was described with adjectives like tearful and puffy, reportedly looked much older than his 59 years. With their heads hanging in despair, the threesome walked arm-in-arm slowly behind the princess' coffin. At one point Princess Caroline looked so overwhelmed that she had to pause in order to compose herself.

Prince Albert appeared stoic, but both his sister and his father repeatedly dabbed at tears as they sorrowfully led the funeral cortege. Once inside the cathedral, the prince's anguish was on full display, and his face quivered as the congregation rose to pray for him at the end of the service. One news report described him as "a man...for the moment...left alone to sit in sorrow." 

Princess Grace had a Catholic ceremony

Grace Kelly was born on November 12, 1929, to a wealthy Irish-Catholic couple in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was reportedly baptized at St. Bridget's Catholic Church just a few days later. Kelly was educated in both convent and private schools and would go on to embrace the Catholic faith for the balance of her life.  According to Grace and Family, Kelly told her biographer Donald Spoto about her feelings toward some of the sisters who had educated her. She said, "They were remarkable women and I was enormously fond of them. They were strict about our studies, but also very, very kind...however rigorous their religious life, the nuns understood young girls and devoted themselves completely to our educational and spiritual welfare."

Her Catholicism was honored on the day of her funeral. Conducted by Archbishop Charles Brandt, the ceremony was described as a simple requiem that included heartfelt comments. ”We weep for our good princess, Her Serene Highness Princess Grace. Savior, savior, we are sure you are calling her to you and to your glory," he said (via New York Times). He spoke kindly about her throughout the service, saying in part that, "Our princess was so helpful to others, now she receives the help of our prayers" (via Washington Post). The service also featured Gregorian chants and classical music selections.

Princess Grace had an open casket

A simple wooden coffin displaying Princess Grace's body remained on view after the funeral service so that the citizens of Monaco would have an opportunity to pay their final respects. "She is beautiful still," said one woman who had the chance to file past the bier told UPI. Another mourner told the outlet that she was wearing a high-necked white lace dress and lying on a bed of orchids. 

Some of the many mourners who passed by her claimed that the princess's eyes were open but a photo of the scene proved their reports incorrect. In fact, photographs indicate that she lay in state, eyes closed, with a serene expression on her face. Her left hand rests on her right at her waist, and in addition to what looks like a simple wedding band, she holds a rosary. Another woman who viewed the princess said that she was ”as much an aristocrat in that awful coffin as she was every day of her life" (via New York Times).

Her body was interred in the Grimaldi family crypt

At some point, Princess Grace's body was transported in a hearse. Though it's not completely clear when this occurred, it seems likely that it was used to bring her from the morgue (or the hospital) to the palace. The vehicle was a 1973 Mercedes hearse that is currently on display at the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, Texas. The placard accompanying it reads in part, "The hearse was used to deliver the coffin of Princess Grace to the castle." 

Princess Grace was ultimately laid to rest in the Grimaldi family crypt which is located inside the St. Nicholas Cathedral. This portion of the ceremony was private and attended only by her immediate family and her siblings. She lies there with other members of the Grimaldi family as well as her husband, who died in 2005. After his death, one of Monaco's citizens told The Guardian, "It's a bit the soul of Monaco, its image around the world, that we are saying goodbye to today."