PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, eldest daughter of Cambodia’s late King Norodom Sihanouk and a famed dancer, died Monday at age 76.
Buppha Devi was the half sister of the country’s current king, Norodom Sihamoni, but was best known as a practitioner and promoter of classical Cambodian dance.
Cambodia’s Constitutional Council, of which she was a member, announced she died at a hospital in Thailand. The cause of death was not given.
Buppha Devi was the daughter of Sihanouk’s first wife, the late Phat Kanthol, to whom he was briefly married. She learned dance as a small child and became lead dancer in the royal troupe by age 16. In that capacity, she played a major role in her father’s cultural diplomacy, especially in presenting shows for visiting foreign leaders, including France’s Charles de Gaulle and Indonesia’s Sukarno.
She was particularly well known for her performance and production of the Apsara dance, inspired by the female spirits depicted in stone carvings on the walls at Cambodia’s legendary Angkor Wat.
Known in her youth for being headstrong, Buppha Devi was the subject of much gossip about her colorful romantic life, which sometimes put her at odds with her father. She was married four times, once to the son of an Italian diplomat and the other times to Cambodians of royal blood, and had five children.
She escaped from Cambodia before the 1975 Khmer Rouge takeover, returning to the country in 1991 with Sihanouk. At least five of her 12 siblings are believed to have been killed by the Khmer Rouge, and only about 10% of the royal dance troupe survived the brutal 1975-79 rule of the communist group.
Buppha Devi served as culture minister in 1999-2004, and as recently as 2018 was directing classical dance troupes on performances abroad, though no longer performing publicly.
Prime Minister Hun Sen sent a letter of condolence to Queen Mother Norodom Monineath — Sihanouk’s widow and fifth wife — calling the death of Buppha Devi the loss of one of the country’s greatest experts on Cambodian culture and civilization.