THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Johan Friso, the bespectacled Dutch prince who avoided the limelight and gave up his position in line to the throne after getting entangled in a scandal with his bride-to-be, died Monday -- 18 months after a skiing accident that left his brain gravely injured. He was 44.
The royal house said the prince, known as Friso, died of complications from the accident, without giving more details. It said he had never regained more than "minimal consciousness."
Friso was struck by an avalanche while skiing off-trail in Lech, Austria, Feb. 17, 2012, and was buried until rescuers pulled him from the snow, unconscious, 20 minutes later. He was resuscitated at the scene and flown to a hospital, but remained in a coma for months.
His death Monday, though not unexpected, "still comes as a shock," said Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
"Prince Friso was only 44 years old, and until the ski accident, in the prime of his life."
In addition to the royal family, Friso is survived by his wife, Princess Mabel, and two daughters, Luana and Zaria.
Before the dramatic incidents in Lech, Friso, the second of the former Queen Beatrix's three sons, had sometimes been known as "Prince Brilliant." He studied at UC Berkeley, the Technical University of Delft and Erasmus University at Rotterdam, graduating from the Dutch universities cum laude with degrees in engineering and economics. He later earned an MBA at France's prestigious INSEAD school of business.
But the central event of his life as a royal came when he gave up his claim to the throne in order to marry Dutchwoman Mabel Wisse Smit, in a wedding not sanctioned by the government.
The pair got engaged in 2003. Wisse Smit worked for George Soros' Open Society Institute and was seen by the queen as an ideal daughter-in-law. But during her vetting to join the royal house, she and Friso decided not to disclose the full extent of a friendship she had had while she was a college student.
The friend in question: drug baron Klaas Bruinsma, who later became one of the country's most infamous crime lords and was slain in a gangland killing.
Wisse Smit denies ever having had any romantic involvement with Bruinsma, and says she hadn't understood who he was at the time. But as details about their relationship emerged in the Dutch press, then-Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said it was clear the pair had held back information, and he wouldn't propose the law needed for Parliament to approve Wisse Smit's entry to the royal house.
The couple acknowledged being "naive and incomplete" in what they told Balkenende.
Other spouses of Dutch royalty have endured controversy. Beatrix's own marriage was initially unpopular because of her husband's German nationality. King Willem-Alexander's Argentine wife, Queen Maxima, has been criticized over her father's ties to the former totalitarian regime.
Friso and Mabel decided to marry without seeking parliamentary approval. The decision meant Friso would be cut from the royal house and line of succession. They were still considered members of the royal family, and bore the honorific titles of Prince and Princess of Oranje-Nassau.
After the affair -- dubbed "Mablegate" in the Dutch press, because the "cover-up" did most of the damage -- Friso seemed relieved at the certainty he would never be called upon to assume the throne.
"I am planning to remain available for my mother or brother if it's needed, for supporting roles," he said in a televised statement.
After his studies, Friso worked in consulting and later became a vice president at Goldman Sachs in London. At the time of the accident he was working as CFO of uranium enrichment company Urenco.
Although Friso did not have an image as a risk-taker, the skiing accident -- off piste despite avalanche warnings -- did not stand totally alone. He was also once stopped while driving 120 mph.
One of Friso's most sympathetic moments in the public eye came shortly after the death of his father, Prince Claus: it fell to Friso to escort his mother at the funeral ceremony. He supported her in a long, stately walk to her seat as she leaned heavily on his arm, deep in grief.
In a lighter vein, the prince was considered very handsome as a young man, but he was not known to have had any girlfriends. The Dutch gay community became convinced he was homosexual. Friso turned a blind eye in amusement as Friso-themed parties became a nightlife fixture.
But after mainstream publications began speculating as to whether he might come out of the closet, he had the Royal Information Service put out a one-line statement in 2001: "Johan Friso is not homosexual, but heterosexual."
The move was mocked by some and others remained unconvinced. Friso's relationship with Wisse Smit was announced the following year.