15 October 2012
Last updated at 01:31 ET
Born in 1922 and educated in French schools, Norodom Sihanouk was crowned king of Cambodia in 1941 by the Nazi-controlled Vichy government in France, bypassing his father Norodom Suramarit.
But the young man - who the French had seen as potentially malleable - then led Cambodia to independence in 1953 after nearly a century of colonial rule. Two years later, he abdicated in favour of his father, becoming prime minister and foreign minister instead.
When a US-backed coup installed Lon Nol as Cambodia's leader in 1970, Sihanouk was forced into exile in Beijing. He formed an alliance with Khmer Rouge guerrillas led by Pol Pot, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan, seen here between him and his wife, Princess Monique.
When the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975, Sihanouk, seen here with Deng Xiaoping, left Beijing to return as head of state. But once home, he was detained and confined to the palace for most of the four years the regime ruled. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died during this period.
When the Khmer Rouge fell to Vietnamese forces, Sihanouk left for Beijing again and spent the next 13 years in exile. He returned in 1991 after the Vietnamese withdrew, greeted here by then PM Hun Sen, and was crowned king again in 1993.
With his health deteriorating, Sihanouk abdicated for a second time in 2004, and his son, the little known ballet dancer Norodom Sihamoni, was crowned king in October that year.
Sihanouk spent most of the last eight years overseas. In October 2011, a ceremony was held at the royal palace in Phnom Penh to mark the 20th anniversary of his return. While criticised for his involvement with the Khmer Rouge, he remained an integral figure in Cambodia's turbulent history.