Ali-Reza’s death

It remains to be seen what impact Ali-Reza’s death will have on a society in turmoil


Ali-Reza’s death
by Omid Memarian & Roja Heydarpour

The shah of Iran’s son took his life Tuesday, a decade after his sister died from an overdose. Omid Memarian and Roja Heydarpour on the family heartbreak and what it means for Iran. Plus, Stephen Kinzer reports on the death of the prince.

There is nothing worse for a mother than the death of a child, except, perhaps, the death of two children who took their own lives. That is what the former queen of Iran must endure now that her son, Ali-Reza Pahlavi, 44, was found dead in his home in Boston from a gunshot wound he inflicted on himself early Tuesday morning.

It isn’t the first time Farah Pahlavi has had to grieve a child who committed suicide. Just 10 years ago, former Princess Leila Pahlavi, whose young daughter suffered from anorexia and depression, took a lethal cocktail of cocaine and barbiturates, and died in her sleep at 31.

And so it seems Iran’s royal family, once at the pinnacle of riches and power, has lost its members one by one, never recovering from losing the throne more than 30 years ago.

“Like millions of young Iranians, [Ali-Reza] 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,” wrote Reza Pahlavi, the eldest son who is still politically active and hopes to return to Iran as its leader one day, on his website. “Although he struggled for years to overcome his sorrow, he finally succumbed.”

On his mother’s website, a simple page for Ali-Reza that clearly has not been updated lists his résumé, along with a smiling picture. “Post Graduate: Harvard University (ancient Iranian Studies! Philology)” it reads. Followed by a list of his hobbies—sky diving, scuba diving, reading, flying. “Email: None for the time being.”

The children’s father, the former shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was dethroned in the 1979 Islamic Revolution that took root in an uprising that spanned all walks of life and political leanings before the Islamic government took power. Nearly everyone considered the shah corrupt and unjust. The family then moved to Egypt, Morocco, the Bahamas, and Mexico before settling in the United States.

Ali-Reza Pahlavi went to the best schools throughout his life. He never married, but was at one point considered an eligible bachelor.

He was engaged to Sarah Tabatabai for many years. But a few years ago, he lost his fiancée in a scuba-diving accident and never quite recovered from that, a friend close to the shah's family told The Daily Beast. "She was his connection to life, art, and Iran, and she was very close to the queen and her loss was unbearable,” the friend said.

His neighbors told The Daily Beast that he mostly kept to himself, though they would spot him in his Porsche, wearing jeans and a tattered blazer. Unlike his brother, who is actively seeking to return to power, Ali-Reza never quite jumped into the spotlight. Neither did Leila.

''I have lived almost all my life abroad, but I've stayed just as Iranian as if I had never left my country,'' Leila told Hola, a Spanish magazine, just months before her death. She was only 9 when she left.

“They were, like all other royal families, accustomed to a life of wealth, luxury, and power—and they violently and abruptly lost that life. I am sure it must have been quite traumatic,” said Hamid Dabashi, a professor at Columbia University and an Iran expert. “These children grew up seeing their parents deposed of their power and glory and made into a global spectacle when they were very young… Neither Europe nor North America, despite their family wealth, seems to have offered them a place of peace, solace, or above all usefulness.”

But even before the steep fall from power, there were signs that depression and melancholy ran in the family, said Abbas Milani, author of the recent book The Shah and the head of Iranian studies at Stanford University. As early as 1941, the CIA, the British Embassy, and the State Department profiled the shah periodically.

“From early on, one of the themes that is recurrent in the description of the father is that he is occasionally given to melancholy moods and, in one, is called a Hamlet-like figure; grief stricken and indecisive. This embryonic melancholy became profound during the last few months of the shah’s life in Iran. I think [Ali-Reza] was really hurt by what was happening. One ambassador [said he] has the mood of a jilted lover; someone who has put all his life for a woman or man and now is left by him or her,” Milani said.

The close family friend said that one of the surviving daughters, Farahnaz Pahlavi, also suffers from depression.

Despite the clearly tragic nature of Ali-Reza’s death, and his sister’s before that, the pain, bitterness and sense of injustice that brought on the revolution that overthrew the shah runs so deep in Iranians—both inside and out of the country—that life-long rivalries and indignities will not be so easily overlooked.

In a country where long, drawn-out mourning periods are the norm, it remains to be seen what impact Ali-Reza’s death will have on a society in turmoil.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, an activist for the Green Movement inside Iran, which started after the contested presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, didn’t think the impact of the death would be too big in Iran.

“With what I know of the Iranian society, I doubt there is widespread public support for this family,” he said on the condition of anonymity because it’s taboo to speak on the record about the monarchy. “That's why news pertaining to this family does not receive a huge reaction among young Iranians. Of course, it might create discussions and dialogues among the older [Iranians]. But for the generations who were born after the revolution, this family and their fate has no significance, or has low significance.”

Indeed, aside from a loyal group of monarchists in exile, very few Iranians pay heed to the Pahlavi family’s aspirations to return to power, making the news of Ali-Reza Pahlavi’s suicide that much more heart-wrenching. Even for the eldest surviving brother, Reza, there is something nearly suicidal in grasping for a throne that will never be again. Still, he has some connection to the world outside himself.

“[Ali-Reza and Leila] were not married, they did not have anyone else who was living with them, one was living in a hotel, one living in an apartment, so their ties are not as great as Prince Reza’s ties. Prince Reza has an office, has family, children, all of these things are positive indications of connections to life. When those connections are missing that’s when a life becomes enormously fragile,” Milani said.

First published in

Omid Memarian is columnist whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and other publications. He was a World Peace Fellow at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism in 2007-2009 and the 2005 recipient of the ‘Human Rights Defender Award’, the highest honor bestowed by Human Rights Watch.

Roja Heydarpour is an editor at The Daily Beast. She has reported for the The New York Times and The Times-Tribune.



Setareh, Shifteh

by DelilahNY on

Setareh, you wrote that the woman who died scuba diving was with Alireza at the time. I assume you're sure about this. Do you know when it happened?

Shifteh, the Beast article was overcorrected, because if he was with her when it happened, that would be a big cause for the depression to get much worse. Aside from it bringing him all the closer to the idea of death being everywhere, and making his sister's death (and father's) very vivid for him again, there is always the factor of 'What could I have done to prevent her death?" (which would also bring up, "What could I have done to prevent my sister's death?). But the Beast doesn't mention the scuba diving accident at all now. And yet seems to want to tackle the 'whys'. For someone with Alireza's history, if he was there with that woman, that's about as heavy as it gets.

That's the reason I'd like to know when it happened, and also be 100% sure that he was with her.


It is the plastic screen which unites, it is the plastic screen which tears apart.


Absolutely nothing, but, it is sad departure.

by soorena on

His life was no different from thousands of other young men and women in Iran. To die like this is sad and as a human being, I am sorry and my biggest condoulances to the family, and especially to his mother.

Sadly, we should be used to this by now. I am sure he couldn't deal with something in his life that made him do this. Respect his privecy and stop glamorizing it.


Anahid Hojjati

To G. Rahmanian, this comment of yours, what does it mean?

by Anahid Hojjati on

To G. Rahmanian, this comment of yours, what does it mean? Apparently
you felt so strong about your comment that you spammed it into several
blogs just like those guys who spam their ads about boot and whatever. I
see that you spammed your comment into some blogs related to Alireza' s
suicide so what do you mean or you are just trying to provoke?

G. Rahmanian

Tudeh Traitors!

by G. Rahmanian on

یا رب سبب خیانت توده زچیست؟•این خا‌ئن بی وطن چرا، بهر چه زیست؟•چون می شود او از این غم ما خوشحال،•در شادیمان برای او جایی نیست!•

Jonny Dollar

No impact! Why should it?

by Jonny Dollar on

This is only answer to the title. I didn't read the article.

A private citizen died. let's not exagerate! God bless his soul!

"God is love!"



by sam jade on

ای مرده پرستان شما ها کجائید کجائید
یک شهه زاده بمرده ست بیائید بیائید

تا زنده بدش چهره پیکر ایشان همه غایب
اکنون که مرخص شده شما در خانه چرائید
فریاد بزنید هیهات و همه هم گریه بسیار
تا دیده شود شه و سرودی بر ایشان بسرائید

رسمی است ز عجایب که اگر زنده بمانید
خاک و گل و خاکستر و فرومایه شمائید

مارشال تو بمیر زان رو که پلیدی به حیاتت
هنگامه مردن بتو گویند شما خدا خدائید


Re AliReza Pahlavi

by delavar on

Being a socialist/true Liberal/Leftist and despite my difference of opinion with Reza Pahlavi and despite not being a supprter of Monarchy in Iran, I still believe that Pahlavi Family both Reza Shah and Shah did their best for Iran considering the time and the date they ruled. Infact Iran was considered the only democracy in that region considering middle east standards for democracy. Reza Pahlavi is a fine man not after becoming a King and I do believe that he should have a place in a future democratic Iran such as becoming a senator or Member of parliament or what have you if people would vote for him or be allowed to live in his motherland freely as an Iranian citizen once Iran is liberated from  terrorist occupation of Iran by the Republic of Islam and Hezbollah

 My condolensces to the Pahlavi family and all true Iranian for the passing away of AliReza Pahlavi. It is hard to imagine how much pain this family has to endure esp. Shahbanoo Farah pahlavi. I had tears in my eyes when I heard the bad news.

Setareh Sabety


by Setareh Sabety on

agree with you on anti-depressents, that is what I thought as well.



by Puck on

The top photo looks like an ad for an Agatha Christie play.


My heart is true as steel.


Pahlavi dynasty has more support than you think

by Parthianshot91 on

Really, these people aren't the only way towards democracy and freedom, but they have more support than you think both abroad and inside of Iran.


"They are not afraid of the ideology alone, but of the detemination and will of the men behind it"


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.


To Ghalam-doon

by jamh on

Your question was beautifully answered by Prince Siddhartha.

Excerpts from Wikipedia:

At the age of 29, Siddhartha left
his palace to meet his subjects. Despite his father's efforts to hide
from him the sick, aged and suffering, Siddhartha was said to have seen
an old man. When his charioteer Channa explained to him that all people grew old, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome ageing, sickness, and death by living the life of an ascetic.

Accompanied by Channa and aboard his horse Kanthaka, Guatama quit his palace for the life of a mendicant. It's said that, "the horse's hooves were muffled by the gods to prevent guards from knowing of the new bodhisattva's departure. This event is traditionally known as "the great departure".


Shifteh Ansari


by Shifteh Ansari on

It appears that the article on The Daily Beast has been corrected with information about his fiancee.  Here's what it says:

"He was engaged to Sarah Tabatabai for many years. But a few years ago, the engagement fell apart, leaving him alone again."



Perhaps it should be updated here, as well.


Totally wrong about the

by alimostofi on

Totally wrong about the interest being limited to Monarchists.

Just go to presstv and see their list of the most popular reports.

Now look at the number of messages and hits here.

There numerous other sites.

Mind you some people who might support the mullahs might be clicking the story about the An's car.

Ali Mostofi




A Star (Setareh) is Born!!

by Tavana on

""Please check facts before putting pen to paper. I wish next time an innocent compatriot???? decides to take his or her life he do it in a wayto serve our cause."" Who are "Our?" & What is the "cause?" 

maziar 58


by maziar 58 on


regardless of who the person was,STOP being jealous man.



Quick Answer

by ghalam-doon on

...not much

For us earthly creatures there is always something to look forward to (wealth, forture, fame etc.) That's what makes us get out of bed in the morning and keeps hope alive. But for someone like these "poor" children of fortune what is there to look forward to. What is out there to achieve?

The article claims Farahnaz suffers from depression too. Well, somebody better do something.

Setareh Sabety

fact check please

by Setareh Sabety on

Dear Omid and Roya,
Sarah Tabatabai was not the girl who died in a scuba diving accident. The girl who died when with Alireza was a daughter of Mr Azmoudeh who died the night of her sister's wedding. Please check facts before putting pen to paper. I wish next time an innocent compatriot decides to take his or her life he do it in a way to serve our cause. Think of how different this death would be if he had done it in front of the Iranian Embassy in Paris saying: death to the Islamic Republic!
May he rest in peace. Condolences to all who mourn him especially his loved ones.

Sargord Pirouz

So that's this guy's last

by Sargord Pirouz on

So that's this guy's last days encapsulated: driving around in a Porsche wearing jeans and a seenster blazer.

"Big wow," as we mockingly used to say in the 70s. 

Have to say, though, the authors of this piece are right when they point out that, apart form a handful of monarchist cranks, nobody really cares.