PARIS — The apparent suicide of the former shah of Iran’s youngest son has shocked and saddened Iranian emigres, many of whom were forced into exile by the Islamic Revolution and hoped their country’s monarchy could one day be restored.
The death of 44-year-old Alireza Pahlavi of a gunshot wound at his home in Boston brought home the personal tragedies of many who fled Iran more than three decades ago, and symbolized another lost link to the era of the Western-backed dynasty’s Peacock Throne.
In Iran, the official Islamic Republic News Agency carried a brief story that was the most-viewed early Wednesday. The website of the state-run Press TV released a factual account of the death under the headline: “Son of ex-dictator of Iran kills himself.”
The official website of older brother Reza Pahlavi, now an exiled opposition figure, announced the death, saying Alireza Pahlavi took his own life Tuesday, succumbing to his sorrows. He was the second of the four children of the late Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi and former Empress Farah Pahlavi to die in exile. A sister was found dead of a drug overdose a decade ago.
“This represents the story of millions of Iranians who left their country and live with a sense of solitude everywhere in the world ... often treated like foreigners,” Ramin Shams Molkara, a distant family member, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
He said this was particularly true of the first generation of exiles who left Iran as the clerical regime swept to power in 1979 and who still live with a “feeling of abandonment.”
Shams Molkara, who lives in Paris, noted that Alireza Pahlavi was a low-profile member of the Pahlavi family and the only member living in Boston.
For years, Alireza Pahlavi had immersed himself in academia, and there was no apparent political link to the death.
Websites and social media outlets — which have become the lifeline for Iran’s opposition movements — also became the main forums for the reaction to the death.
Postings on Reza Pahlavi’s website constituted a study in the frustrations of Iranian emigres. Messages offered condolences, but many veered into rage that the Islamic theocracy ruling Iran remains strongly in control and how the emigres’ dreams of returning to Iran are still distant.
“Where is God’s justice? Hell is too nice of a place for those who took our country and caused this much suffering,” said one posting.
Many others expressed particular concern for the dethroned empress, Alireza’s mother.
The shah died of cancer in Egypt a year after fleeing Iran shortly before the defeat of his remaining forces in 1979. The new Islamic state quickly became an arch foe of the United States after militants — angered over American aid to the shah — stormed the U.S. Embassy and held 52 hostages for 444 days.
The shah’s family sought haven in exile with many members settling in the United States. Reza Pahlavi, the older brother, divides his time between raising a family outside Washington and trying to reburnish the Pahlavi dynasty image for a dreamed of return to Iran.
The monarch’s youngest son, Alireza, was born in Tehran, then attended schools in New York, Cairo and western Massachusetts before going on to study music at an undergraduate at Princeton University, ancient Iranian studies as a graduate student at Columbia University and postgraduate work at Harvard University.
But he struggled with depression following the death of his sister Leila in 2001, who was found in a London hotel room at age 31 after overdosing on barbiturates.
“Once again, we are joined with mothers, father and relatives of so many victims of these dark times for our country,” Reza Pahlavi wrote on his website, announcing his brother’s death.
Nazie Eftekhari, who works in Reza Pahlavi’s office in Washington and is a close family friend, said Pahlavi’s depression “grew over time — his departure from Iran, living in exile, the death of his father and then his sister to whom he was very close.”
“The deaths were a huge blow to him,” she said.
In Boston, police said they found a man dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound shortly after 2 a.m. Tuesday at a home in the city’s South End neighborhood.
Police would not confirm the man’s identity, but a law enforcement official who was not authorized to release the man’s identity and asked for anonymity confirmed that the man was Alireza Pahlavi.
A police officer was seen late Tuesday afternoon going in and out of Pahlavi’s Boston apartment and speaking with family representatives, who would not talk to reporters.
A neighbor, Dan Phillips, 42, said he did not know Pahlavi personally but recognized his picture and described him as someone who was very social and “who always dressed very dapper.”
“I would always see him walking around here and he used to wear blue jeans and a blazer,” Phillips said.
Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, said in a statement that “the Iranian-American community was deeply saddened by the news of this tragedy.
“There are many divisions in the community, but on a day like this, I think we are all united in our sympathy with the Pahlavi family for their tragic and painful loss,” Parsi said.
Reza Pahlavi has spoken out in opposition to Iran’s clerical regime. But he is not thought to carry real influence among Iran’s current opposition leaders, such as Mir Hussein Mousavi, who have challenged the ruling system after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009.
The protests and clashes after the vote marked the worst internal unrest in Iran since the Islamic Revolution.
Pahlavi will head to Boston on Wednesday, Eftekhari said, and she expected his mother, the former empress Farah Pahlavi, who’s in Paris, to go as well.
Eftekhari said no funeral arrangements have yet been made.
Brian Murphy reported from Dubai. Denise Lavoie, Bob Salsberg and Russell Contreras in Boston; Scheherezade Faramarzi in Beirut, and Matthew Barakat in McLean, Va., contributed to this report.