Former king of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk died in Beijing after suffering from various diseases. Photo credit to Time Magazine.

Cambodia – The former king of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk, who was a looming figure in the country’s politics through half a century of war, genocide and upheaval, has died aged at 89 years old.

Norodom Sihanouk died last Monday of heart attack in Beijing, where he had been receiving medical treatments since January for multiple ailments. According to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency, he died of natural causes after having been treated by Chinese doctors for years for various forms of cancer, diabetes and hypertension.

Norodom Sihanouk’s descendant, Norodom Sihamoni, flew with the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, to Beijing to retrieve the body. State flags flew at half-mast. Officials stated that they expected as many as 100,000 people to line the route from the airport to the Royal Palace for the return of Sihanouk’s body.

He was first crowned king by the French in 1941 at the age of 18, he ruled as a feudal-style absolute monarchy, but called himself a democrat. Sihanouk loves to sing love songs at elaborate state dinners, brought his French poodle to peace talks, and charmed foreign dignitaries such as Jacqueline Kennedy.

According to the foreign ministry of Australia, Sihanouk came from a royal lineage, but it was France that placed Sihanouk on the throne in 1941, which has played a key role in Cambodia’s transition toward peace. Sihanouk dissolved the nation’s parliament in 1953, which helped bring about Cambodia’s independence.

In the last years of Sihanouk’s life, Sihanouk’s profile and influence standby. While older people in the countryside still held him in reverence, the young generation regarded him as a figure of the past and one partly responsible for Cambodia’s tragedy.

He became for a time a productive blogger, posting his musings on current affairs and past controversies. Most of his writing was literally in his own hand — his site featured images of letters, usually in French in a cramped cursive script, along with handwritten marginalia to news clippings that caught his interest.

Last January, Sihanouk appealed that he be cremated in the Cambodian and Buddhist tradition, requesting that his ashes be put in an urn, preferably made of gold, and placed in a stupa at the Royal Palace.