ATHENS — Constantine II, the last king of Greece, who ruled for just three years during a turbulent period in the country’s modern history that culminated in the abolition of the monarchy, died in a hospital here on Tuesday. He was 82.
A family spokeswoman said he was in intensive care for several days after a respiratory infection.
Constantine was a popular figure when he ascended the throne in 1964 at the age of 23 after the death of his father, King Paul. Just years earlier, he won Greece’s first Olympic sailing gold medal in decades at the 1960 Rome Games.
But public support dwindled after he attempted to influence Greek politics, machinations that led to the collapse of Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou’s newly elected centrist government.
Constantine appointed a number of defectors from Mr Papandreou’s party as prime minister without holding elections, a widely unpopular chain of events that became known as “apostasy”.
The growing instability culminated in a 1967 coup led by a group of army colonels, considered one of the darkest moments in modern Greek history. It sparked seven years of brutal dictatorship for which many Greeks still blame the former king.
Constantine initially accepted the junta before attempting a counter-coup in December of the same year. When this failed, he was forced to flee to Rome, where he spent the first years of his exile.
After the end of the dictatorship in 1974, Greece’s new government called a referendum on the monarchy, and 69 percent of Greeks voted to abolish it. The vote effectively deposed Constantine and ended a monarchy that had ruled Greece since 1863 except for the period 1924–1935, when it was first abolished and then restored.
Although Constantine declared that he accepted the results of the referendum as an expression of the will of the people, he continued to refer to himself as king and reportedly insisted on being addressed as “Your Majesty” by visitors during his exile.
A descendant of the Danish Glücksburg monarchy, Konstantin was born in Athens on 2 June 1940, the only son of Crown Prince Paul of Greece and his German-born wife Princess Frederica.
He too spent his early years in exile, first in Egypt and then in South Africa, following the Italian invasion and Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II. His family returned to Greece after the war in 1946.
While at school, Constantine was an able sportsman, excelling at swimming, karate and horseback riding, although he gained international recognition for his sailing skills.
He served in all three services and studied law at the University of Athens.
In 1964 he married Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark, who became Queen.
She survives him, as do her five children: Alexia, Pavlos, Nikolaos, Theodora and Philippos; nine grandchildren; and two sisters, Sofia, former Queen of Spain and former Princess Irene.
In exile he lived mainly in London, where he is said to have developed a close relationship with his second cousin Charles, now King Charles III. He was chosen as one of the godparents of Prince William, heir to the British throne.
Konstantin did not return to Greece until 1981 – to bury his mother, Queen Frederica – but after that he made increasingly frequent visits until moving there permanently in 2013, first to Porto Heli in the Peloponnese peninsula and then to Athens. His public appearances were rare.
His relationship with the Greek authorities remained strained after his dethronement. In 1994, the socialist government passed a law stripping him of his citizenship and expropriating the property of the former royal family. Constantine took the case to the European Court of Human Rights, which ordered Greece in 2002 to pay him and his family nearly $15 million in compensation, a fraction of what he had asked for. He accused the government of acting “unjustly and vengefully”.
“Sometimes they treat me like I’m their enemy,” he said in 2002. “I’m not the enemy. I think it is the greatest insult in the world when a Greek is told he is not Greek.”
The former king could have regained a Greek passport by adopting a surname, which the government required him to do to acknowledge that he was no longer king. But he insisted on being called only Constantine and continued to pose as the king and his children as princes and princesses.
After his death, Greek television channels showed montages of key moments in his life, from his accession to the throne to his swearing in by the colonels who led the 1967 coup. But news of his death also sparked heated debate on social media about whether there should be a state funeral.
The government said Constantine would be buried Monday as a private citizen at the site of the royal family’s former summer palace at Tatoi, north of Athens. The family spokeswoman said the funeral will follow a service conducted by Archbishop Ieronymos II at Athens Cathedral. Visiting dignitaries would include the Spanish royal family, she said.
With little nostalgia for the monarchy in Greece — a 2007 poll showed less than 12 percent of the population would welcome its return — official reactions to the death have been muted.
President Katerina N. Sakellaropoulou, the country’s head of state, a largely ceremonial role, made no public statement.
The government will be represented at the funeral by Deputy Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos and Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni.
Greece’s conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday that Constantine’s death was “the formal epilogue of a chapter that was finally closed with the 1974 referendum”.
He added, “It is now up to history to judge the public figure Constantine fairly and severely.”