Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej was the superlative monarch. He was the world’s longest reigning, the world’s richest and, among his own subjects at least, the world’s most revered. Up until his death on Oct. 13 at the age of 88, Bhumibol overcame numerous catastrophes through intelligence, fortitude and love of country. “He was a King that was loved and adored by all,” said Prayuth Chan-ocha, chief of the Thai military junta.
Yet Bhumibol was never supposed to wear the crown. He became King only after the death of his elder brother King Ananda Mahidol, who was mysteriously found shot in the forehead in Bangkok’s Grand Palace on June 9, 1946. Thrust onto the throne the same day, Bhumibol spent the next seven decades in diligent service–touring far-flung villages with a team of doctors, overseeing rural irrigation projects and sponsoring crop substitution among opium-farming hill tribes. He also played saxophone with jazz legends like Duke Ellington, won prizes for sailing, was a keen amateur photographer and painted Expressionist oils.
Bhumibol’s crown and fortune–once estimated at $30 billion–now pass to his only son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. However, his heir has a playboy reputation, and many blame anxiety over the succession for spurring the nation’s latest coup d’état, on May 22, 2014. Military interventions are all too common in Thailand, though Bhumibol generally gave them his blessing without reducing his own popularity. Thai children are taught from the crib of his godlike infallibility, and no picture in the room was placed higher than his portrait, found in all schools, institutions, businesses and practically every household. Thais can’t help but love their King.
This appears in the October 31, 2016 issue of TIME.