After two days of rumors about the health of Thailand’s king, confirmation finally arrived in the form of a solemn statement issued by the royal palace Thursday evening. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a unifying figure through seven politically tumultuous decades, died peacefully in the capital of Bangkok at the age of 88. According to the palace, the world’s longest-reigning monarch died at 3:52 p.m. after years of declining health. The immediate cause of death was not clear.
Despite reports that the king’s health had worsened in recent days, the news has plunged Thailand into a period of deep mourning and uncertainty. For most Thais, King Bhumibol is the only monarch they have ever known, the one constant in a modern history marked by mass protests, military coups, and widening political fault lines. In some quarters, the king is revered with almost religious fervor; his beatific portrait is ubiquitous, staring down from the walls of homes, businesses, and government buildings across the country.