King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 88


The world's longest-reigning monarch at the time of his death, Thailand’s king was a beloved leader who saw his country through an era of dramatic change.

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej was a man of contrasts. American-born and Swiss-educated, he was a Buddhist who always felt at home in the West. He was the world’s richest monarch, yet he touted the virtues of the nation’s rural poor -- perhaps the influence of his mother, a commoner. Protected by Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté laws, he was known as “the king who never smiles” at home, while abroad he was called “the coolest king in the land" for his jazz chops, according to U.S. bandleader Lionel Hampton.


Bhumibol Adulyadej inspired reverence and loyalty among his people. He was a stabilizing presence in Thailand, seeing the country through 32 prime ministers and 16 coups and coup attempts. Here, royal guards take their annual oath of allegiance ahead of the king's birthday in 1996.

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King Bhumibol, pictured with Queen Sirikit in 1966 at their residence in Sunninghill, England, was a cosmopolitan monarch who spoke impeccable English and French.

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King Bhumibol and Benny Goodman (right) in 1960 in New York City. Mostly self-taught, the king wrote nearly 50 musical compositions over his lifetime.


An active photographer since age 8, King Bhumibol kept a camera nearby for most of his life. In this image from the 1990s, he photographs a royal ploughing ceremony in Bangkok.

"They say that a kingdom is like a pyramid: the king on top and the people below. But in this country it's upside down."

- King Bhumibol Adulyadej

A constitutional monarch respected for his people-first leadership, King Bhumibol acted as mediator when competing factions fought for power. His loss leaves the sharply divided country, currently led by a military junta that seized power in 2014, politically vulnerable. The son who succeeds him, King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, has been the subject of more gossip than praise. Married three times, he has shown a taste for flashy cars, and once made his poodle, Fufu, an air chief marshal in the Royal Thai Air Force.


Known for his calm leadership through political turmoil, King Bhumibol often preached a message of national unity, as he did during a 2006 speech that marked his 60th year on the throne.

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Called “the people’s king,” Bhumibol frequented rural areas of Thailand, often traveling with doctors to treat the ill or suffering. Here, he is greeted by people during a rice harvest celebration in Ayutthaya in 1996, the year he became the first Thai monarch in 700 years to reach his golden jubilee.

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Some 100,000 Thais came out to mourn the late King Bhumibol in October at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

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A Thai woman weeps as she sings the royal anthem with a crowd of thousands in Bangkok.

70 years spent as head of state
~50% increase in literacy rate during king’s reign
52 million Thai population growth during king’s reign

2016 in numbers