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Iranian prince battled depression, brother says

Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi said his brother, Prince Ali Reza Pahlavi, left a suicide note but would not discuss its contents during a press conference yesterday at the Fairmont Copley Plaza. Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi said his brother, Prince Ali Reza Pahlavi, left a suicide note but would not discuss its contents during a press conference yesterday at the Fairmont Copley Plaza. (Bill Brett for The Boston Globe)
By Travis Andersen
Globe Staff / January 6, 2011

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Prince Ali Reza Pahlavi, the 44-year-old son of the former shah of Iran who apparently took his own life inside his South End home Tuesday, suffered from depression brought on in part by the tumultuous events of the Iranian Revolution, his brother said yesterday.

Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, 50, said during a press conference at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel that his brother was only 12 when his family was ousted from power in 1979.

“I can imagine for such a young kid that it would be so much harder’’ to deal with the upheaval, Pahlavi said. He added that for years his brother had undergone emotional highs and lows while suffering from the disease.

“It’s definitely not an easy road,’’ he said.

Their father, Shah Mohammed Pahlavi, was a close American ally who was overthrown in a fundamentalist Islamic revolution that remains in power today. The exiled shah died of cancer in Egypt in 1980.

Reading from a prepared statement yesterday, the crown prince choked up when discussing his brother, who shot himself early Tuesday, according to relatives and law enforcement officials.

“We mourn today, the succumbing of our beloved Ali Reza to the weight, pain, and daily burdens of this grave illness,’’ he said.

He said his brother left a note, but he did not discuss its contents. He added that he last spoke to his brother less than two weeks ago and that he had never attempted suicide before.

He said arrangements for a memorial service in Washington, D.C., are being finalized. He said that his brother will be cremated and that his remains will be released into the Caspian Sea, according to his final wishes.

Though Reza Pahlavi has been active in the Iranian opposition movement, his younger brother largely steered clear of politics, according to Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian studies at Stanford University, who recently published “The Shah,’’ a book about the former ruler’s life.

Ali Reza’s “proclivity was much more toward history and scholarship than to politics,’’ Milani said, adding that his main academic interests were ancient Persian history and Persian classical music.

Milani, a former law professor at the University of Tehran who left the country in 1986 after being barred from publishing because of his criticism of the authorities, said Reza Pahlavi has supporters and detractors in the opposition movement. Milani said he could not speculate on how ordinary Iranians presently view the royal family.

Asked whether Pahlavi might one day return to Iran, Milani said: “I hope he can, and I hope I can. But it’s hard to predict politics and even harder to predict politics in Iran.’’

Pahlavi also lost a sister to an accidental prescription drug overdose in a London hotel in 2001, according to Agence France-Presse. But yesterday, Milani said that the sister’s death was also a suicide and that foreign intelligence agencies noted during the shah’s tenure that he also suffered from depression.

“One [intelligence] report described him as almost Hamlet-like,’’ he said.

According to a message posted on Pahlavi’s website Tuesday, Ali Reza received a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in 1984 and a master’s from Columbia University in 1992. He later attended Harvard University to pursue a doctorate in ancient Iranian studies, his family said.

It was not immediately clear yesterday what he had been doing recently.

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com.