Tragic End

Alireza Pahlavi's suicide


Tragic End
by Stephen Kinzer

The suicide of the shah’s son is the latest tragedy for a dynasty drenched in blood. Stephen Kinzer on the death of a prince. Plus, more on Prince Alireza Pahlavi's life.

Down the street from my apartment in Boston's South End, a single gunshot shattered the pre-dawn darkness Tuesday. Police arrived to find a suicide. This doesn't happen any more often in the South End than anywhere else, and passers-by like me were left to imagine what tragedy lay behind it. Then came news of the man's identity. He was Prince Alireza Pahlavi, son of the late shah of Iran.

This shocking act of self-slaughter was the latest violent tragedy in the long history of a family drenched in blood—first that of the Iranians it tortured and killed, then its own. It is a drama of Shakespearean dimensions. The shah once ruled Iran with an iron fist, but his family later paid dearly for his sins, echoing Hamlet's judgment that royal crime “cannot come to good.”

Prince Alireza's father died in humiliating exile barely a year after being chased from his homeland in one of the 20th century's most spectacular revolutions. His aunt, Princess Ashraf, the shah's twin sister, a once-sinister figure known as Iran's “black panther,” has suffered through depressions and addictions, three failed marriages, and the assassination of one of her sons. His sister, Leila, was found dead in a London hotel room in 2001 after taking an overdose of barbiturates.

“Like millions of young Iranians, he too was deeply disturbed by all the ills fallen upon his beloved homeland, as well as carrying the burden of losing a father and a sister in his young life,” the Pahlavi family said in a brief statement on Tuesday. “Although he struggled for years to overcome his sorrow, he finally succumbed.”

Iran has also succumbed over the course of a cruel century, in large part because of the depredations of the Pahlavi dynasty. Yet this was a dynasty that set out to modernize and strengthen a nation that was prostrate and on the brink of extinction when it seized power. Prince Alireza's tragedy mirrored that of his long-suffering land.

The founder of the dynasty, Reza Shah, Prince Alireza's grandfather, was a titanic figure, a brutal tyrant but also a visionary reformer. He was an illiterate soldier who came to power in a coup and made himself shah in 1926. The main reason he refused to lead his country toward democracy was that he wished his son to be shah after he was gone.

That came to pass with Mohammad Reza Shah's ascension in 1941, but the son turned out to be a cowardly wimp, completely unlike his commanding father. He hated the democracy that emerged in Iran after World War II—personified by its most formidable leader, Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh—but could do nothing to crush it. Then, like a gift from God, the CIA and British MI-6 arrived to overthrow Mossadegh in 1953, angered by his attempt to nationalize Iran's oil industry. That allowed Mohammad Reza Shah to take absolute power.

The Pahlavi dynasty was one of the few facts of 20th-century geopolitical life that nearly everyone considered permanent and unalterable. Its collapse in 1979 stunned the world no less than the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade later.

Prince Alireza spent his childhood in royal luxury. He was the second son of an absolute monarch who held the fate of 30 million people in his hands, became America's chief ally in the Middle East, and lost himself in such deep megalomania that he came to consider himself one of the greatest kings of all time, rightful successor to Persian titans like Cyrus, Darius and Xerxes.

First published in


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Reply to Kambiz Atabai
Feb 09, 2011
more from Stephen Kinzer

Suicide is VERY common side effect of psych drugs

by Mehdi on

In fact any psychiatric "treatment" directlyraises the potential for suicide. This is a proven fact that psychiatrists,with their infinitely wealthy lobby have been able to hide or have ignored byauthorities. Most people on psych drugs commit suicide or become violent -school shootings are mostly done by kids on anti-depressants. In all cases thepsychiatrist is right there to blame it on "lack of psychiatriccare." But in reality it is the psychiatric care that increases theincidence of suicide many times over! I bet you any money Alireza was on somesort of psychiatric "treatment/medication."

Please note that "Depression" is a made up"disease." Scientifically speaking, being sad or extra sad for longperiods of time has NEVER been proven to be a disease. It is a made up diseasethat makes billions of dollars for the big pharma. with absolutely noscientific basis whatsoever.



by norooz on

Again, you are comparing between bad and worse, Shah and IRI.  you cannot deny that Shah was a dictator and did tortured and killed many political prisoners and many in public during the revolution. I am not going by what Mullas say. I go by the facts.  Even a fool would know in such a religious country killing clerics is a foolish thing to do.  He had his masters teaching him a few tricks and you know the rest of the story.  Do you disagree that Mosaddegh didn't shed no blood? That he served the country and people? So what else can be the reason for someone to take Shah over Mosaddegh other than same old self interest?



by norooz on

Yes, Mosaddegh was an old man, but a very wise man. To run a country you need wisdom.  Challenging British government in those days and winning the case in an international court was not what a weak man would do.  That is a sign of strength, not weakness. On the other hand there was Shah who was young, had no wisdom and was taking orders from US and British. Do you think the orders were to benefit Iranians? 

Mosaddegh was supported by Toudeh (people) and toudeh group was part of people. Their support was strategic and when Mosaddegh didn't betray the national interest and didn't accommodate them, they turned away from him. Mosaddegh was also for the separation of religion from government and when he didn't accommodate the clerics, they also turned against him.  It is shameful despite such solid proofs of his service to people and country that cost him his freedom and health, some so called Iranians can disrespect him.   

Glorious times? There is nothing glorious about being dependent up to our necks and being ripped off of our resources and be called savages. 

Good times? For some maybe, but apparently millions disagreed. 

If the selfish traitors had given a chance and thought of common interest that would include their own interest rather than temporary self interest, we would have had it all and west would have learned to live with it.  


Dr. X


by Dr. X on

I think you missed my point completely. I dont care how old Mossadegh was or what anyone envisions might have happened after. The point is that it was the beginning of democracy, of a nation choosing for itself. I dont think that it is acceptable that the CIA and Brits decide what is good for us in terms of choosing our own leaders. Apparently the consensus in 1953 was that Iranians did not want the Shah. Otherwise, why did he flee, and have to be brought back through a covert CIA coup that spread propaganda against Mossadegh? As an Iranian, that is certainly not something for me to be proud of in terms of the Shah's legacy.




by shushtari on

assume you're pointing to me....

my comparison was not with the shah, but with all the murderous hordes that have plundered iran over the past 2500 years 

 I actually believe the shah did NOT kill enough of these traitors and vultures- had he done so, we would very likely not be here longing for days gone by...

I don't advocate torture or violence- BUT, when it comes to protecting you country, you can't sit around while a bunch of thieves and murderers plan to carry out the destruction of your country.

if the shah was the monster that the mullahs were yapping about, he would have exterminated them in 1342- and khomeini would have been sent to hell long before 1989!

he was NOT a murderer, and that is how history will judge him 

the only good thing with the fiasco of 79 is that, soon after the mullahs are exterminated, THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER ISLAMIC DICTATORSHIP IN IRAN, period.



Let's see

by statira on

what would've happened if Mosadegh stayed in power? He was an old , weak man, and  was mainly supported by the Tudeh group. After Mosadegh death, power would've gone to Tudeh and Iran would have been something like the Eastern Bloc states. That would've accelerated the Islamification of Iran even faster, possibly around 1967. At least now we have some good  memories of the Pahlavi Daynesty glorious times to be proud of.

Dr. X


by Dr. X on

I think Norooz said it well. But lets assume Mossadegh would not have been better for Iran. The point is that he was a democratically chosen figure and this was democracy in its embryonic stages in Iran. He was not a puppet, and as Norooz said he didnt betray his country to stay in power. The same cannot be said for the Shah. If Mossadegh had stayed in power and the result was a total disaster, no one would be to blame except Iranians themselves.

The second point I want to address is whenever criticism of any kind is brought against the Shah's regime, theres always someone that says.. "Yes but...the mullahs killed and tortured 100 times more." Does a parallell really need to be drawn between bad and much worse? Especially in this article, I never read one single part where the author is praising the mullahs. He is stating undeniable fact that the Shah's regime tortured and eliminated political dissent. Many scholars and analysts will also say that the CIA coup in 1953 and return of the Shah to power is one major catalyst for the 1979 Revolution. I happen to agree with them.



by norooz on

Mosaddegh was much better and he proved it.  He had the chance to execute his oppositions as Shah and IRI did, but he didn't. He wanted freedom for all Iranians not just his supporters.  He had a chance to make deals with British and betray Iran and Iranians to stay in power, but he didn't. He fought till he nationalized the oil so that Iranians can have better lives.  Had it not been for his efforts, there wouldn't be much revenues for Shah to spend.  Mosaddegh will always be a symbol of freedom, democracy, nationalism, law and justice.  What was done to him was truly a national tragedy. 



To Think These Lies Used to Work 31 years ago

by AlexInFlorida on

Stephen may be factualy totally off, but from a propaganda stand point he is a close second to Abbas Milani.  This was how they assasinated the figure of a King who Loved his people and did everything he could to improve their Freedom and Development.


kinzer is

by shushtari on

a moron......'the iranians it killed and tortured...'


without reza shah and the pahlavis, iran would be worse off than afghanistan or haiti!!!!


what have the dirty akhoonds done for iran???? haven't they killed millions more, plundered trillions, and ruined iran more than any other ruler??!!!


I stopped reading after that second sentence.......what an idiot! 


Nightmares from my father?

by Wellwisher on

Kinzer writes, “The main reason [Reza Shah] refused to lead his country toward democracy was that he wished his son to be shah after he was gone.” Where did he get that idea? Does anyone know? I recall from what I read ages ago in Iran, Reza Khan initially wanted to replace Qajar dynasty with a republican system of government. However, he was discouraged by those who erroneously believed Iranians would never accept any regime but monarchy.

As Kinzer describes, Shah was also afflicted with bouts of depression. So, in all likelihood, (most of) his children suffer from a congenital malady that might have been exasperated by living a life of seclusion in exile - that has nothing to do with being “drenched in blood”. Beyond quoting Hamlet, I wish Kinzer had explained why he considers the unenviable situation members of Pahlavi family are as “a drama of Shakespearean dimensions.” Can he come up with any intelligent explanation beyond the superstitious “his family later paid dearly for his sins”?

Kinzer’s piece exemplifies one of those (unfortunately common) cases where one’s politics obscure his humanity.

Safa Ali

this stephen kinzer guy is messed up

by Safa Ali on

dude, u already wrote a book that took a shit in his whole family.  Now, even after the guy killed himself ur using this as another opportunity to insult him.  This is disgusting.


How do we know

by statira on

that Mosadegh would've been better. Khomeini was also promising and acted like a saint, and we all saw how brutal and backwarded he turned out to be. At least Shah modernize the country in a great deal and improve the face of Iran. His dictatorship directed only on the groups that took the power after the Revolution. Are they any better? No, why we always have to learn our lesson in a hard way? If people knew what future would hold for them and if they could turn back time, they appreciate those great men better.


Ah please

by MRX1 on

This guy kinzer wrote one dopey book with the usuall tekrar mokarart now he has become an expert about Iran, pahlavi dynasty, the royla family, their issues you name it. I wish he would just go away. isn't there an opening in MSNBC for him?


He looks like Korous the singer