King Norodom Sihanouk, who would have turned 90 on October 31, suffered from a number of ailments, including cancer, in recent years and was a frequent visitor to Beijing, where he received medical treatment.
There appeared to be some confusion about the cause of the king's death. Cambodia's deputy prime minister, Nhek Bunchhay, told Japan's Kyodo News that Sinhanouk had died of a heart attack. However, China's official Xinhua news agency quoted Nhek as said he'd died of natural causes.
The late monarch's personal assistant also mentioned heart trouble. “He was very steadily declining,” Prince Sisowath Thomico told the AFP news agency.
"It's painful. I am full of sorrow," he said. "King Sihanouk did not belong to his family, he belonged to Cambodia and to history."
King Sinhanouk was a key figure in Cambodian politics for the better part of six decades. He was first placed on the throne by French colonial authorities in 1941, when he was just 18.
He subsequently pushed for Cambodia's independence, which it achieved in 1953. The king later abdicated in order to enter politics and wound up serving as the country's prime minister a number of times.
Sihnouk, who was elected head of state in 1960, was deposed 10 years later in a US-backed coup. After initially allying himself with communist rebels who later became the Khmer Rouge, Sihanouk and his family wound up being placed under house arrest by the regime, which is believed to have killed at least 1.7 million people between 1975 and 1979.
He returned to the throne in 1993 but abdicated for a second time in 2004 citing failing health.
pfd/ch (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)