Posted on Wed, May. 14, 2003


Sadruddin Aga Khan | Humanitarian leader, 70

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, 70, a wealthy philanthropist who held a string of top U.N. humanitarian posts and was the uncle of the current spiritual leader of the Ismaili sect of Shiite Islam, has died, associates said yesterday.

Prince Sadruddin died Monday at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said Nasir Sunderji, an official of the Geneva-based Bellerive Foundation founded by the prince. The cause of death was not announced.

He was both the youngest and longest-serving U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, taking over the post in 1965 at age 33 and staying for 12 years. After resigning that post, he held a series of U.N. humanitarian roles and was once mentioned as a possible secretary-general.

He then became increasingly involved in protection of the Alps and rare Alpine birds. He was decorated with a long list of awards, including the French Legion of Honor.

Born in Paris into a world of fabulous wealth, he was the son of Sultan Mohammed Shah Aga Khan 3d, an earlier spiritual leader of the world's Ismaili Muslims. He held French, Iranian and Swiss passports, was educated at Harvard, and proclaimed himself a "citizen of the world."

He was married briefly to model Nina Dyer, and their 1962 divorce was headline news. But he quickly shed his playboy image and managed overall to avoid the gossip that dogged many members of the dynasty.

Urbane and eloquent, he and his Greek-born second wife, Catherine Sursock, were familiar but discrete figures on the Geneva social scene. He was passionate about Islamic art and archaeology, as well as about bridging the understanding between cultures.