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Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
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Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (October 26, 1919 - July 27, 1980) was the last Shah of Iran, ruling from 1941 until 1979. He was born in Tehran, Iran.

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

As a young man, he was educated at Institute Le Rosey, a Swiss finishing school and in Tehran at the Military College.

His father, Reza Pahlavi, (1877-1944), was minister of war and was elected by the Iranian Assembly as Shah in 1925. Concerned that Reza Pahlavi was about to align his petroleum-rich country with Germany during World War II, Britain and the USSR occupied Iran and forced him to resign in favor of his son. His mother was the shah's second wife, Tadj ol-Molouk (1896 - 1982).


At the end of the War, political unrest dogged Iran and in 1953 the nation's socialist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh forced the Shah to flee the country. He was quickly escorted back to power and fired Mossadegh through a coup organised by the American CIA and Britain's SIS (MI6).

With Iran's great oil wealth, Pahlavi became the pre-eminent leader of the Middle East, and Guardian of the Gulf. He abolished the multi-party system of government such that he could rule through a one-party regime as absolute dictator. The Shah formalised his secret police force, SAVAK. Pahlavi made major changes to curb certain ancient elite factions by breaking up all large and middle-sized estates for the benefit of more than four million small farmers. In what was called 'the White Revolution', he took a number of populist measures, including extending suffrage to women, to favour the people.

His policies led to strong economic growth during the 1960s and 1970s but at the same time, opposition to his autocratic rule increased. On January 16, 1979 he and his family were forced to flee Iran a second time following a year of extreme turmoil and public protests, the Iranian revolution. Following the Shah's departure, conservative Muslims led by the Ayatollah Khomeini who had returned from French exile staged a revolution abolishing the monarchy and establishing an Islamic Republic.

The exiled monarch, with a history of repressive violence had become unpopular in much of the world and travelled from country to country seeking what he hoped in his second exile, would be merely a temporary residence. For a while he stayed in Paraguay, but his non-Hodgkins lymphoma began to grow worse, and required immediate and sophisticated treatment. Reluctantly, Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to make a brief stopover in the United States, and undergo medical treatment. The compromise was extremely unpopular in Iran, where the new regime had now vilified the Shah as a "blood sucker" and American stooge. Khomeini demanded the former monarch's return to Iran to face trial and execution for his alleged misdeeds. Once the Shah's course of treatment had finished, the American government, eager to avoid further controversy sent Pahlavi out of the country. He was welcomed by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, and remained there until his death on July 27, 1980. He is interred at Al-Refai Mosque in Eqypt.


Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was married three times.

His first wife was Princess Fawzia of Egypt (born: November 5, 1921), the dazzlingly beautiful daughter of King Fuad I of Egypt and his wife, Nazli Sabri, and a sister of the notorious King Farouk I of Egypt; they married in 1939 and divorced in 1948, after her failure to produce an heir to the throne. They had one daughter, Shahnaz Pahlavi (born: October 27, 1940).

His second wife was Soraya Esfandiary Bakhtiari (June 22, 1932-October 26, 2001), daughter of Khalil Esfandiary Bakhtiari, Ambassador of Iran to the Federal Republic of Germany, and his German wife, Eva Karl; they married in 1951 and divorced in 1958 when it became apparent that she could not bear children. (Given the title Princess Soraya of Iran after the divorce, she later became a film actress, appearing the 1965 movie "Three Faces of a Woman," and mistress of its Italian director Franco Indovina, 1932-1972.)

The Shah's third wife was Farah Diba (born: October 14, 1938), daughter of Sohrab Diba, Capt., Imperial Iranian Army, and his wife, Faredeh Gothbi. They were married in 1959, and Farah was created Shahbanu, or Empress, a title created especially for her (previous royal wives had been known as Malika, or Queen); she bore him four children:

  1. Reza Pahlavi II, his Crown Prince (born: October 31, 1960)
  2. Farahnaz (born: March 12, 1963)
  3. Ali-Reza Pahlavi (born: April 28, 1966)
  4. Leila Pahlavi (March 27, 1970 - June 10, 2001)

Preceded by:
Reza Pahlavi
Persian Shahs Succeeded by:
Ayatollah Khomeini
Pahlavi dynasty