The King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej (or Rama IX) is the world's longest serving head of state, having come to the throne as the result of a series unforeseen circumstances which took place in Thailand leading up to 1946.
While his portrait is displayed on highway overpasses, on giant sized billboards, on Thai currency, and even on the walls of both public and privately owned buildings all across Thailand, his rise to the throne commenced after his uncle King Prajadhipok (Rama VII), son of King Chulalongkorn, abdicated the throne in 1935 (see image below).
Then on June 9 1946, the King of Thailand, Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII) who was the brother of Bhumibol Adulyadej, died under mysterious circumstances from a gunshot wound.
Hence, after the untimely death of his brother, the young 19 year old Bhumibol Adulyadej ascended to the throne in 1946 (although his official coronation did not occur until 1950) .
Since this period, the King has ruled Thailand with determination and dignity for over 68 years. While his name in Thai is said to mean "strength of the land and incomparable power"; the King has dedicated his life to serving his subjects by improving their living standards. This has been achieved by the implementation of public works, better education and improved healthcare.
Indeed, since the King of Thailand came to power, both he and his wife have worked tirelessly for the benefit of the Thai people. Their labors have helped transform Thailand from an under-developed country into one of Southeast Asia's more prosperous countries (i.e. over the past 30 years Thai living standards have drastically improved) with the King of Thailand being the guarantor of the country's stability.
Bhumibol Adulyadej was born on December 5 1927 in Boston Massachusetts in the United States of America (the only Thai King to have been born there). A year after his birth he was taken to Thailand when his father Prince Mahidol Adulyadej completed his university studies in medicine at Harvard University.
However, in September of 1929, while working at the McCormick hospital in Chiang Mai, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej died of severe kidney disease leaving a void in the hearts of his young family (see image below).
In 1930 the Great Depression took its hold in the United States and then spread throughout the world including Thailand. As a result of the hardships then faced by the Thai people, many did not look favorably upon the absolute power held by the Thai royal family. Due to the civil unrest that was building within the country Bhumibol's mother decided to have her children educated abroad.
Thus, while the young Bhumibol was initially schooled in Bangkok, he was eventually sent to Switzerland where he received his high school diploma majoring in French literature, Latin and Greek. He spent some 17 years of his youth in Switzerland and his family were in exile there during World War Two (WW2).
When WW2 ended in 1945 Bhumibol returned
to Thailand despite commencing studies at the University of Lausanne.
However, after the death of his elder brother (under mysterious circumstances), the King of Thailand had returned to Switzerland by 1948 to finish his degree in law and while in Paris met the daughter of the Thai ambassador to France, Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara.
He was 21 and she was 17 at the time. During this period the King was involved in a serious car accident and lost the sight of his right eye. He was hospitalized in Lausanne Switzerland, and during his recovery Sirikit become a regular visitor.
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
They fell in love and were engaged in July of 1949; a year later the King married Sirikit on April 28 1950 just prior to his coronation at the Royal Palace in Bangkok. Before their wedding day the King (a great-grandson of King Mongkut of "The King and I" fame) composed a love song for his wife to be called "Wonderland".
The lyrics included:
In the kingdom of my dreams You are Queen.
Please don't let me just dream,
Please make my dreams come true in wonderland.
Over the next decade the King of Thailand and Queen Sirikit started their family and had four children.
Between 1959 and 1967 the King and Queen Sirikit embarked on a number of State Visits to foreign countries which included the United States of America (where King Bhumibol addressed a joint session of Congress in 1960, see image below), Australia (including Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane), Austria, Germany, the United Kingdom (where he met Queen Elizabeth, see image above), Switzerland, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand, Vietnam, Malaya, Burma, Indonesia, Japan, Switzerland and Pakistan.
During his American tour Bhumibol was initially greeted by President Dwight Eisenhower at Washington airport on June 28 1960 and held a dinner for the King of Thailand at the White House. At the dinner, Eisenhower commented during his speech that he learned a few things about the King, that he likes noodle soup and he has four children, and that he would like the noodle soup recipe for his grand-children.
The King replied during his speech that he had also asked President Eisenhower for a recipe to make ice cream.
During his United States visit, the King and Queen Sirikit visited the movie studios of Paramount and Desilu, located in Los Angeles. They also toured Disneyland along with their children, HRH Princess Ubolratana, and HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. The King and Queen also met a number of Hollywood movie stars including Bob Hope, Lucille Ball and visited the movie set of “G. I. Blues” where the King of Thailand met the king of rock and roll, Elvis Presley and his co-star Juliette Prowse (see image below).
Being a jazz enthusiast and composer, whilst in New York King Bhumibol also visited famous American Jazz and swing artist Benny Goodman and engaged in a music playing session with him along with drummer Gene Krupa, pianist Teddy Wilson, trombonist Urbie Green, Red Norvo and Jonah Jones.
During his early years, the King used to lead a jazz band in a radio show broadcast from his palace once a week. As a song writer, he also had top billing on a Mike Todd Broadway show. He also earned the tag over the years as the 'king of jazz'.
However, at the completion of this grueling decade which was characterized by numerous overseas State Visits on behalf of Thailand while helping to raise his young family, King Bhumibol did not travel abroad again until 1994, when he made a visit to the Lao people's Democratic Republic.
Apart from his interest as a musician and composer King Bhumibol is also recognized for his abilities in art and sports and has authored a books including Phra Mahachanok, a book about Buddhist scripture, and Thong Daeng, a book written about a female copper coloured stray dog the King adopted in 1998.
This latter book sold out in 2002 when it was released in Bangkok and when the King left hospital wearing a t-shirt with the image of Thong Daeng and her puppies, a fashion craze began in Bangkok with Thai people buying and wearing the same Thong Daeng t-shirt.
King Bhumibol is a also recognized sailor and sailboat designer and is the only King to holds patents, which he has in relation to waste water and rainmaking.
The King of Thailand has also earned a reputation as having a big heart in relation to animals and especially dogs supporting animal welfare and adopting a number of homeless dogs himself over the years.
Apart from these achievements the King of Thailand is also credited with devoting much of his life in assisting the rural development of Thailand, and this has been demonstrated by the 4,000 development projects that he has initiated during his rule and within some of the most remote areas of Thailand. The aim of these projects is said to have been to improve living conditions of his people.
As of May 2014 King Bhumibol's personal wealth was estimated to be in the vicinity of 37 billion dollars (USD), as he holds interests in a number of Thai companies including Siam Cement, Siam Commercial Bank, Deves Insurance whilst also owning approximately 3,500 acres of prime land in Bangkok and at least 11 palaces.
These include the Ban Pa-in Palace (Ayutthaya), the Dusit Palace (Bangkok), the Klai Kangwon Palace (Prachuap Khiri Khan), the Bhubing Palace (Chiang Mai), the Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace (Narathiwat), the Phu Phan Palace (Sakon Nakhon), the Sukhothai Palace (Bangkok), the Sa Pathum Palace (Bangkok), the Chakri Bongkot Palace (Pathum Thani), the Doi Tung Palace (Chiang Rai), and the Le Dix Palace (Bangkok).
However, it is said that his fortune is managed by the Crown Property Bureau (CPB), an organisation said to be neither private nor government. Officially the Kings wealth is said to be owned by the crown as an institution, and not Bhumibol Adulyadej as an individual.
This wealth according to some journalists including Andrew Macgreggor Marshall is the real reason behind Thailand's latest political coup (as of 2014) which has removed prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra from power (the 14th successful coup since 1932 in Thailand). Marshall argues that the political turmoil in Thailand is nothing more than a struggle or a succession plan to gain control of this royal fortune, which 61 year old Crown Prince Maha Varjiralongkorn is designated to inherit.
However, since September 2009 the Kings health has been in decline and it is said that he has undergone several operations and receives ongoing treatment as the result of a stroke he suffered and other related illnesses.
As a consequence of his health issues he has spent little time outside of his Bangkok hospital, although in May 2012 he made a rare visit to the ancient capital of Ayutthaya which is located about an hour's drive from Bangkok.
However, in November of 2012 the King of Thailand demonstrated that he was still able to carry out formal duties when he was visited in his hospital quarters by the United States President Barack Obama, who stopped by for a visit after meeting with the Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra as part of an Asian tour (see image above).
In August 2013 after time in Siiraj Hospital in Bangkok he has since returned to his home.