Today marks the 40th anniversary of the fall of the 2,500-year-old Persian monarchy. We are taking a look at what happened to the Iranian royals after the monarchy was officially deposed in the evening on this day in 1979.
The monarch in Iran was the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was married to Empress Farah. The Shah had four children with the Empress (Crown Prince Reza, Princesses Farahnaz and Leila and Prince Ali-Reza)and one daughter – Princess Shahnaz – by his first wife, Princess Fawzia of Egypt.
The Shah, whose overthrow came as a shock to many outside Iran, left the country with his family on 16 January 1979 via the Mehrabad Airport with his guardsmen reportedly crying as he boarded the plane. As His Imperial Majesty left Iran, supporters of the Ayatollah and Revolution began tearing down statues of the Shah and ridding the country of signs of the Pahlavi dynasty.
The Pahlavi family first travelled to Egypt where they were welcomed by President Anwar El-Sadat before later moving to Morocco as a guest of King Hassan. It turned out that the King of Morocco had ulterior motives for allowing the family in his country, hoping to acquire money for their stay. The US Ambassador to Morocco remarked, “The Moroccans believed the Shah was worth about $2 billion, and they wanted to take their share of the loot.”
After Morocco, the Shah, Empress and the children moved on to the Bahamas and Mexico. In October of that year, the Shah was reluctantly allowed in the United States by President Jimmy Carter for medical treatment. Carter had initially refused to allow the Shah in the US, but the Republican opposition’s promise to support his SALT treaty with the Soviet Union in exchange for allowing the Shah in the US caused him to relent.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had been diagnosed with cancer in 1974, and his health had continued to deteriorate. It was not helped in the Shah’s refusal to admit to Mexican doctors that he had cancer while in exile in the country. As a result, Mexican doctors diagnosed him with malaria and prescribed medicine that resulted in His Imperial Majesty losing 30 pounds. He also had gallbladder issues that required surgery, which he received at the New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center. The operation had complications which required the Shah to remain in the US for six weeks in the hospital; his stay wasn’t pleasant as Iranian students in the US chanting outside his window, “Death to the Shah!”
The family left the United States in December and travelled to Panama. After an invitation for asylum for the Shah by Egypt’s President El-Sadat, the Shah and family returned to Egypt in March 1980. There he underwent necessary surgeries but would die a few months later at the age of 60 on 27 July 1980. He received a state funeral in Egypt and was buried in Cairo’s Al Rifa’i Mosque.
The Empress and her children remained in Egypt for two years, using Koubbeh Palace. President El-Sadat was assassinated, and the new US President Ronald Reagan welcomed the family to the United States – unlike his predecessor.
The family, with the exception of Princess Shahnaz who had married in 1971 and resided in Switzerland, settled in Massachusetts and later Connecticut.
Empress Farah splits her time between the United States and Paris; she occasionally makes appearances at foreign royal events. Her Imperial Majesty has also written a book about her marriage to the Shah: An Enduring Love: My Life with the Shah. She also released a message for the 40th anniversary on her Twitter calling it “The occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the tragedy, 11 February.”
Crown Prince Reza still resides Maryland, in the United States, as does his mother, with his wife and three daughters. The Crown Prince is, naturally, an influential critic of the Ayatollah and the current regime in Iran. He regularly updates his social media accounts directed at the people of Iran and meets with US dignitaries over the Iranian situation regularly. He recently called for civil disobedience and the reconstruction of Iran.
Princess Farahnaz lives a private life in New York City.
Prince Ali-Reza died on 4 January 2011 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after years of depression. He had one daughter, Iryana Leila, who was born a few months after his death. His ashes were spread in the Caspian Sea after an official memorial service in Maryland.
Princess Leila, who had an array of health issues including anorexia and depression, spent her time between the US and Paris. She died from a drug overdose on 10 June 2001 in London. She is buried in Paris.