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9 Things to Know About Thailand King Bhumibol’s Unconventional Life and Reign

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John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej died Thursday after 70 years on the throne.

According to the palace, the king died “peacefully” at 3:53 pm local time at Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital. “Even though the board of doctors has closely monitored and treated him to the best of its abilities, the king’s condition never improved but deteriorated until Thursday,” the palace said.

King Bhumibol had been ill for years, suffering from kidney failure. He last made a public appearance in January.

The 88-year-old monarch wasn’t born to be king and he lived a largely unconventional life. Here are nine things to know about the late ruler.

He was born on American soil.
King Bhumibol was born on December 5, 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while his father studied medicine at Harvard. The family returned to Thailand when Bhumibol was around 2 years old, but after his father’s death, Bhumibol’s mother took him, his older brother Ananda and sister Galyani to live in Lausanne, Switzerland.

He was a talented musician.
During his time in Lausanne, Bhumibol learned several languages, including French, German and English. He also developed an appreciation for the arts, with interests in photography and music. He began playing the piano, clarinet and saxophone.

Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty
Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

His brother had a mysterious death.
As a child, Bhumibol’s uncle, Prajadhipok, was king. But a revolution in 1932 stripped King Prajadhipok of most of his powers and he abdicated in 1935. The crown then went to Bhumibol’s older brother, Ananda Mahidol. But in 1946, Ananda was found shot dead in his bedroom in Bangkok’s Grand Palace, which resulted in Bhumibol becoming king at 18 years old. The circumstances of his brother’s death have never been fully explained.

He had a desire for higher education.
After mourning his brother’s death and assuming the role of king, Bhumibol made the bold decision to return to Switzerland to continue his studies, switching from science to political science and law at the University of Lausanne. “I have to leave this capital and leave you because it is essential that I re-create myself,” he said in a radio address before his departure.

He found his queen in Switzerland. 
While in Switzerland, Bhumibol’s met Sirikit Kitiyakara, the daughter of the Thai ambassador to France. The couple married in Bangkok a week before his coronation on May 5, 1950. They went on to have three daughters and a son.

Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty

He loved dogs.
Bhumibol’s love of dogs is legendary. He memorably took in a stray dog he named Thongdaeng and even wrote a book about her that became a bestseller.

AFP/Getty
AFP/Getty

He was beloved by the people of Thailand.
During his reign, Thailand’s economy boomed and achieved middle-income status and the country took steps toward democracy. Although criticism of the monarchy is banned in Thailand — where a strict lese majeste law is in force — Bhumibol experienced high levels of popularity during much of his reign. Thailand remains under military rule following a coup in 2014. Even in ill health, the beloved King Bhumibol was considered a unifying and stabilizing figure in a country that’s been hit by political turmoil.

Julian Parker/UK Press/Getty
Julian Parker/UK Press/Getty

He supported a war on drugs.
Bhumibol’s reign was not without controversy. In 2003, he supported a war on drugs, which led to the deaths of 2000 suspects. Human rights groups attacked the campaign for its state-sanctioned violence and called for a UN investigation.

WATCH: In Memoriam: King Bhumibol Adulyadej

His son, who will now be king, is a controversial figure in Thailand.
The heir to the throne, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, who is the only son of King Bhumibol, has been officially announced as his father’s successor. However, Vajiralongkorn is a polarizing figure in Thailand, and lacks the popularity of his father.

Julian Parker/UK Press/Getty
Julian Parker/UK Press/Getty

The three-times divorced royal has a reputation for womanizing and leading an extravagant lifestyle — he is famously known for making his poodle Foo Foo an air chief marshal in the Thai military. He’s also known for stripping his children of their names and titles and forcing them to live in exile.

Many Thais had hoped that Princess Sirindhorn, Vajiralongkorn’s older sister, would be made queen instead. She is commonly known as “Princess Angel” among the public. In 1974, the Thai constitution was amended to allow for a female to succeed the throne. But Bhumibol had already declared Vajiralongkorn as his heir.