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From Hero To Zero: The Scandalous Life Of A Spanish King

King Juan Carlos helped usher in democracy after the dictator Franco died in 1975, but recently the Spanish royal family has been mired in scandal after scandal. As he abdicates, we take a look at the best — and worst — of a controversial king.

Posted on June 2, 2014, at 7:14 a.m. ET

The Spanish king, Juan Carlos, has said that he will abdicate after nearly four decades at the top. He acceded to the throne in November 1975, shortly after the death of the former dictator, Francisco Franco, who had personally chosen him as the next head of state.

Gianni Ferrari/Cover / Getty
Gianni Ferrari/Cover / Getty

Franco (right) thought he could control Juan Carlos, even after he died, and intended for him to carry on his legacy. But the king had other ideas, and helped begin Spain’s transition to democracy, earning the admiration of many Spaniards.

Gianni Ferrari/Cover / Getty

In 1981, right-wing army officers stormed the parliament building in an attempt to carry out a coup and bring an end to the democracy they so loathed. But Juan Carlos wouldn’t support them, and the coup failed, further guaranteeing the king’s place as the heart of Spain’s new democracy.

1003/Gamma-Rapho / Getty
AFP / Getty

But questions surround the exact size of the 76-year-old king’s wealth, with some saying it could be €2.5 billion. As Spain has entered a terrible recession in recent years, his popularity ratings have been badly hit, which may have led him to abdicate.

REX USA/Reginald Davis / Rex

Juan Carlos as a young prince in the 1960s with his wife, Sofia, showing off his motorbike skills.

In 2007, satirical magazine El Jueves published a cartoon mocking his son Felipe — now the new king. In any other democracy, it might have passed without comment. In Spain, the magazine was impounded for offending the "honor and dignity" of the monarchy.

Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP / Getty

In the cartoon Prince Felipe is depicted telling his wife "Do you realize that if you get pregnant it will be the closest that I come to working in my life?!" as they have sex.

In 2012, the king fell while on a secret elephant-hunting trip in Botswana, and had to be airlifted back to Madrid. The image of him enjoying a colonial–style African adventure went down very badly among the Spanish public.

Target Press / Barcroft Media

Rumors have long abounded that the queen has had to put up with the King’s serial infidelities. Last year Vanity Fair ran a long article in which his alleged affair with the much-younger Princess Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein was discussed in detail.

Carlos Alvarez / Getty
JOSE JORDAN/AFP / Getty Images

The royal family has been mired in yet more controversy of late. His daughter, Princess Cristina (center), and son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin (left), are currently under investigation in a multimillion-euro corruption case.

REX USA/Jens Hartmann

Spanish Twitter has been thoroughly enjoying the whole business, of course. Some have wondered whether Prince Charles is sitting at home, hoping his mother decides to follow Juan Carlos' lead.

Gianni Ferrari/Cover / Getty/Twitter / Via Twitter: @TaboadaLucia

Juan Carlos and Sophia with Charles and Diana in 1986.

Others have been rather cruel about the new queen, Letizia, a former TV presenter rumored to have undergone a little plastic surgery.

REX USA/Bravo Press SA / Rex/Twitter

The new king Felipe with his wife Letizia

  • Picture of Paul Hamilos

    Paul Hamilos is a reporter covering mental health issues. He was previously editor of the Inequality desk, and international editor. Prior to that he was Madrid correspondent at the Guardian, and assistant world editor.

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