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 by a joint military operation orchestrated by the American CIA and British MI5.
With Iran's great oil wealth, Pahlavi became the preeminent leader of the Middle East. He abolished the multiparty system of government so that elections for one party only allowed him to rule as an absolute dictator. During this time 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 extended 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. Following the Shah's departure, conservative Muslims led by the Ayatollah Khomeini staged a revolt, abolishing the monarchy and establishing an Islamic Republic.
The exiled monarch, now largely unpopular with much of the world traveled from country to country seeking what he believed would be a temporary residence. For a while he stayed in Paraguay, but his non-Hodgkins lymphoma began to grow worse, and demanded 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 villified 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 treatment had finished, the American government, eager to avoid further controversy sent Pahlavi out of the country. He eventually settled in Egypt, where he remained until his death on July 27, 1980.
The last shah of Iran 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 were 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: