Nuku'ALOFA, Tonga — Tonga's King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, a towering figure in the tiny Pacific Island nation for four decades, has died...

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NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga — Tonga’s King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, a towering figure in the tiny Pacific Island nation for four decades, has died in a New Zealand hospital, the nation said today. He was 88.

His death ended one of the world’s longest reigns by a monarch in modern times. He ruled 41 years.

King Tupou IV died after a long, unspecified illness in a hospital where he had spent most of the past several months, plunging the remote country into a mourning period expected to last for months, the Tongan government said.

“The sun has set in the kingdom of Tonga,” said the formal death announcement.

His son Crown Prince Tupouto ascended the throne. The new monarch, King Taufa’ahau Tupou V, will take the vows today, and his coronation will occur later, Tonga’s Chief Justice Tony Ford said, according to New Zealand’s National Radio.

The end of King Tupou IV’s reign is likely to fuel a push for more democracy in the near-feudal kingdom. The royal family has ruled with absolute power since tribal groups on more than 170 Polynesian islands united into a kingdom in 1845.

King Tupou IV benefited from a historical reverence for the monarchy. That sentiment has waned in recent years as most people languished in poverty even as the royal family enriched itself from the nation’s meager resources, fell prey to scam artists and oversaw bad economic decisions.

King Tupou IV ascended the throne in 1965 after his mother Queen Salote died.

At age 14, he was one of Tonga’s top athletes; he could pole vault more than 9 feet, played tennis, cricket, rugby and also rowed competitively in a racing skiff. But like many of his countrymen, he became obese and remained so for most of his adult life.

In the 1990s, King Tupou IV led his 108,000 people on a diet-and-exercise regime aimed at cutting the levels of fat in a nation where coconut flesh and mutton flaps are dietary staples.

From a weight listed in Guinness World Records as the heaviest for any monarch — 462 pounds — the king shed around 154 pounds.