Lady Diana Spencer, the glamorous, fairy-tale Princess of Wales whose popularity transcended her royal title, has died in Paris at age 36. She suffered massive internal injuries in a car accident that occurred as she and boyfriend Dodi Fayed fled from a half dozen paparazzi early Sunday morning.
Fayed (full name: Emad Al Fayed), the 41-year-old Harrods heir and sometime Hollywood producer, was also killed, as was their chauffeur. Diana's bodyguard was gravely hurt.
The couple were dining in the Ritz Hotel, which is owned by the Al Fayed family. Shortly after midnight Paris time, the two tried to exit through a rear door to avoid the gaggle of press gathered outside the restaurant.
They entered a black Mercedes and sped off. The photogs and press quickly trailed them on motorbikes and in cars. The motorcade disappeared into a tunnel alongside the Seine. Somehow, somewhere inside, the Mercedes was crushed. Police say the reporters following the vehicle might be to blame and have launched a criminal investigation. Several of the pursuers were detained at a local police station for questioning.
Diana was taken to the intensive care unit at the Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital in southeast Paris, where she was pronounced dead around 4 a.m. local time. While she sustained a concussion and massive internal injuries, her official cause of death was cardiac arrest.
The Princess had been vacationing with Fayed in the Mediterranean, their third trip together in five weeks. She was due back in London Sunday to meet with her two young sons, Princes William, 15, and Harry, 13.
A spokesman for the British royal family in London expressed anger, saying the accident was predictable because photographers relentlessly hounded the Princess wherever she went.
In a phone call to CNN, Tom Cruise said he too had been chased through the same tunnel by paparazzi desperate for his photo.
In 1981, then 19-year-old Diana was catapulted into prominence when she was engaged to Charles, heir to the British throne and 12 years her senior. The couple married on July 29 that year in London--their nuptials watched by 750 million people worldwide. The two separated in 1992 as news of Charles' infidelity spread through the tabs--their divorce was granted last year.
Though no longer technically royalty, Diana has remained an icon in Britain and abroad, with her popularity dwarfing that of her ex-husband's. She was known as a champion of charitable causes--most recently she sought a ban on land mines, campaigning in such war-ravaged lands as Angola and Bosnia.
Throughout it all, Diana remained a favorite target for the notoriously dogged London tabs. Last week, she told the French newspaper Le Mondethat, because of the media microscope, she would have left Britain if it wasn't for her kids. "Any sane person would have left long ago. But I cannot. I have my sons," Diana said.
Diana met Dodi Fayed a decade ago when he and Charles squared off at a polo match. The jet-setting Fayed was the son of mega-rich Mohammed Al Fayed. He had a penchant for beautiful women, regularly dating models and actresses, including Brooke Shields. His 1994 marriage ended in divorce after only eight months.
Fayed fancied himself a Hollywood player. He had producing credits on several films, including the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire, Hook, F/X and The World According to Garp. He was also the subject of several lawsuits (including one by a spurned girlfriend) and allegedly owed the IRS millions in back taxes.
(UPDATED 10:15 p.m. PT)