Hussein bin Talal was the King of Jordan for nearly five decades. With a reign that long, it seemed almost inevitable that Hussein made more than a few enemies. The king’s life was in constant peril and he survived more than a handful of harrowing attempts to bring his reign to an untimely end. And that’s not even mentioning the drama of his tumultuous personal life…
King Hussein Facts
1. He Had Royal Blood
In 1935, a baby boy named Hussein bin Talal entered a high-profile family. His father was the crown prince and his grandfather occupied the Jordanian throne. As a member of the Hashemite dynasty—the second oldest dynasty in the world—little Hussein laid claim to being the 40th generation descendant of the prophet Muhammad. But his storied ancestry didn’t mean his life was all glamor.
2. He Was In The Poor House
Just because he was born into royalty doesn’t mean that Hussein was born into the lap of luxury. Quite the opposite in fact. During one particularly cold Jordanian winter, the royal family suffered a tragic loss. They couldn’t afford to heat their home, causing Hussein’s baby sister to pass of pneumonia. This was just the first of many tragedies to come in Hussein’s life.
3. He Was The Favorite
Hussein’s grandfather, King Abdullah I of Jordan, didn’t think that either of his sons were right for the throne so he focused his attentions on his eldest grandson. Hussein developed a close relationship with his grandfather. It wasn’t long before the king-to-be took on his first official role as his grandfather’s interpreter—and unintentional bodyguard.
4. He Was The King’s Guard
When he was just 15, Hussein accompanied his grandfather on a fateful trip to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. It would be his first of many harrowing brushes with the Grim Reaper. A Palestinian who was upset with the King’s attempts to make peace with Israel opened fire in the mosque. The brazen act ended the life and reign of King Abdullah I. And Hussein wasn’t about to let him go.
5. He Pursued Him
Because he was only a teenager at this time, no one could have faulted Hussein if he turned tail and ran after his grandfather’s untimely demise. But, according to witnesses of the tragic event at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Hussein was anything but a coward. The teenage royal ran after the fleeing shooter to bring him to justice.
6. He Had A Medal Of Honor
The lone shooter may have claimed the life of King Abdullah I but Hussein was no easy target. The younger Hashemite royal survived the shooter’s nearly-fatal actions thanks to a gift from his grandfather. In pursuing the shooter, a bullet ricocheted off of a medal that Hussein’s grandfather had given him. Because of this, the boy who would be king lived.
7. His Father Wasn’t Fit To Rule
After King Abdullah I’s untimely end, Hussein inched closer to the throne. But before his grandfather’s favorite could claim his birthright, Hussein’s father took the crown. He wouldn’t serve for long, however. Parliament forced the new king to give up the throne due for a shocking reason: “Mental infirmity.” And so, with his own father out of the way, young Hussein officially became next in line for the crown.
8. He Got Mail
Hussein was just sixteen when he learned that his life was about to change. While away in Switzerland, Hussein received a letter addressed to “His Majesty King Hussein.” Without having to read further, it was obvious that the throne was his. In his memoirs, Hussein recalled, “I did not need to open it to know that my days as a schoolboy were over.” Over indeed.
9. He Had A Tough Go Of It
King Hussein ascended to the throne in 1952 to cheering crowds. His first years in power, however, were marred by political and social upheaval. Conflicted between his liberal ideals and the need to secure his position, Hussein went through ten prime ministers in just five years. And, if he wasn’t careful, he could have through just as many marriages.
10. He Was Cougar Prey
King Hussein struck a dashing image as a young king. So dashing in fact, that he attracted the attention of the American actress Susan Cabot. In 1951, rumors began swirling that Cabot and the soon-to-be Jordanian king were romantically involved. There was just one small problem. Hussein was only 16 years old at the time while Cabot was 24. And there’s more to this Hollywood-in-the-desert saga, but more on that later…
11. He Had The Perfect Match
In light of all of the political—and personal—turmoil, Hussein needed to shore up his reign. And what better way to do that than with a royal marriage? The King’s first trip down the aisle was an arranged marriage to his distant cousin, Dina bint Abdul-Hamid from Egypt in 1955. On paper, the two were a perfect match. Dina was highly-educated and a Hashemite princess but in reality, things couldn’t have been more different.
12. He Wanted A Housewife, Not A Queen
An author named Isis Fahmy interviewed the newlywed Hashemite royals and got a peek behind their royal veil. During the interview, Fahmy alleged that Hussein declared that his bride Dina would have no political role and that he intended to exert control over his new wife. Oddly enough, Hussein’s sinister views on marriage wasn’t the couples’ undoing…
13. His Mother Was No Pushover
Hussein might have been king, but that did not mean that he got to call all of the shots. It was King Hussein’s mother, the Dowager Queen Zein, who selected and announced her son’s arranged marriage. As such, you think that she would have been delighted with Dina. But she wasn’t. Not at all. Queen Zein perceived her daughter-in-law to be a threat to her own position and just had to get rid of her.
14. His Marriage Was An Embarrassment
Despite both being Hashemite royalty and having received the best education, Hussein and Dina didn’t have much else in common. Their differences sometimes led to incidents that royal observers described as “embarrassing.” Not even the birth of their daughter, Princess Alia, could mend the broken fence of their marriage. And it was about to get a lot worse.
15. He Was Emotionally Distant
King Hussein ended his marriage with his first wife through the 1957 equivalent of a text. While Dina vacationed in Egypt, Hussein sent her a letter informing her of his intentions to separate. Historians agree that Hussein sent the letter on his mother’s advice. Regardless of whose idea it was to send the letter, what followed was even more heartless…
16. He Exiled His Queen
Dina found herself iced out of the Jordanian royal family…including her own young daughter. The former Queen of Jordan was powerless. While Dina remained in quasi-exile in Egypt, it would be years before King Hussein allowed his ex-wife to see their daughter, Alia, again. In a cruel twist of fate, King Hussein’s tense divorce mirrored his strained efforts at peace.
17. He Had Friends In High Places
King Hussein became good friends with his cousin, King Faisal II of Iraq, while the pair attended school in England. The Hashemite royals took their friendship into the political arena by forming the Arab Federation, hoping to support one another against the region’s more radical regimes. Unfortunately, this alliance would prove deadly.
18. He Cost His Cousin His Throne…And His Life
When revolution came knocking on King Hussein’s door, the frightened royal requested the assistance of his cousin. King Faisal II sent a brigade to defend his cousin. In the process of protecting Hussein, King Faisal left himself vulnerable. With defences lowered, radical Iraqi elements stormed the palace and executed King Hussein’s relatives in the bloody July 14 Revolution. Fortunately, Jordan remained stable and Hussein escaped danger…this time.
19. His Vacations Were Dangerous
After the events of the July 14 Revolution, King Hussein took a much-needed vacation. Although, considering what happened, he would probably need a vacation from his vacation. While flying his own plane over Syrian airspace en route to Switzerland in November of 1958, two Syrian fighter jets intercepted King Hussein. But his would-be killers didn’t know what they were in for.
20. He Was A Flying Ace
King Hussein was flying high by the late 1950s. Literally. The Hashemite royal was a trained—and particularly skillful—pilot of planes and helicopters. So, when Syrian fighter jets intercepted his plane when he was trying to take a vacation, Hussein deftly outmaneuvered them. When the King landed safely back at home in Amman, he met with cheering crowds. Not everyone was fond of his life-saving flying maneuvers, however.
21. He Kiss-ingered The Ground
King Hussein took American diplomat Henry Kissinger and his wife on a helicopter, barely skimming above the trees. When Kissinger’s wife remarked that she didn’t know that helicopters could fly so low, Hussein responded by saying, “Oh! They can fly lower!” The King then dropped the chopper until it was barely above the ground, much to the horror of the Kissingers.
22. He Was Lucky
Hussein survived the first few attempts on his life—and his own daredevil flying maneuvers—but that didn’t stop his detractors from trying again. And again. And again. In one lucky stroke of fate, an explosion went off in Prime Minister Majali’s office, sadly claiming his life. King Hussein was meant to respond to the crisis by arriving on scene when, twenty minutes later, another explosion went off. Fortunately, the King was late for that appointment.
23. He Had A Sinus Infection…
Not all of the attempts on King Hussein’s life were quite as cinematic as intercepting fighter jets and exploding offices. But nevertheless, the King was lucky to escape with his life. One day, Hussein decided to empty a bottle of nose drops that he used just the previous night. The contents of the bottle proceeded to burn a hole in his porcelain sink. Someone had replaced the King’s nose drops with acid.
24. He Had A Thing For Cats
With enemies lurking around every corner, King Hussein had no clue about who he could trust. Not even his own staff. Hussein kept discovering deceased cats lying around the palace. An investigation found that one of his cooks had received a bribe to poison him and had been experimenting on the felines. When it came time for King Hussein to punish the assailant, his response shocked everyone.
25. He Was Merciful
Most royals in King Hussein’s position would have executed anyone who tried to end their life. But Hussein pardoned those who plotted against him, even including one general who Hussein actually made director of Jordan’s passport office. The former general wasn’t the only one to experience Hussein’s forgiveness.
26. He Drove His Enemies To The Brink
King Hussein went further than most to defend free speech, even if the speech in question was against him. One of Hussein’s harshest critics found himself behind bars for speaking out against the Hashemite royal. But in a funny twist, Hussein commuted the journalist’s sentence, picked him up from the clink, and dropped him off at home.
But unfortunately for his wives, Hussein’s nice guy act didn’t continue behind closed doors.
27. He Married An Antoinette
Hussein’s second marriage suffered from a lot less meddling from his mother. King Hussein’s second wife was the Princess Muna Al-Hussein but she was no Hashemite royal. Muna was actually born Antoinette Avril Gardiner. The two met while her father—a military adviser—was stationed in Jordan. But there’s another, much more dramatic theory about their meeting.
28. He Was The Real Lawrence Of Arabia
King Hussein’s interest in Hollywood wasn’t just about his maybe-mistress Susan Cabot. The Jordanian King loved to help out the film industry whenever he could. King Hussein granted permission for part of the Hollywood classic Lawrence of Arabia to film in Jordan. He even agreed to allow the film’s producers to use his troops as extras on set. But it sounds like it was Hussein who got the real bargain here.
29. He Fell In Love With Film
While Hollywood descended on the Jordanian desert, Hussein visited the set of Lawrence of Arabia several times. But he may not have been going there to see the film’s breakout star, Peter O’Toole. At the time, Muna was working as a secretarial assistant on the set of the film. The two had a meet-cute worthy of any romance movie, but sadly they wouldn’t get a happy ending.
30. His Marriage Was A Mystery
Despite marrying King Hussein, Muna was never Queen of Jordan. Likely because of her British birth, Antoinette would only ever be Princess Muna Al-Hussein. After ten years and four children, Hussein and Muna divorced in 1971. The reasons are unclear but considering how quickly he moved on to wife number three, I can take a guess…
31. He Was An Imperialist
To some, King Hussein gained a reputation as a peacemaker in the Middle East. In particular, he tried to improve Arab-Israeli relations. His willingness to work with Israeli leadership and their American backers had other Arab leaders calling him an “imperial lackey.” And in 1967, King Hussein was about to learn first-hand that no good deed goes unpunished.
32. He Was Out To Lunch
In 1967, Arab-Israeli tensions reached a boiling point and ultimately, King Hussein sided with his fellow Arab nations. Soon, he made it clear that his previous good relations with Israel meant very little. Israel sent two fighter jets to Hussein’s royal palace. Anti-aircraft artillery took down one jet but the other peppered Hussein’s office with bullets. Fortunately, King Hussein was out of the office at the time. And he contemplated never coming back.
33. He Almost Gave It All Up
King Hussein attempted to bring another famous Hussein into the international fold. The Lion of Jordan befriended Saddam Hussein—and yeah, it was controversial. The King’s efforts to improve relations with Saddam Hussein were so unpopular that Jordan stopped receiving aid from foreign countries and even thought about leaving his throne.
34. He Got Remarried…Quickly
Hussein’s third wife, Alia Al-Hussein, was the 24-year-old daughter of a diplomat. She accepted a position with Royal Jordanian Airlines and quickly grabbed the attention of the nearly-40-year-old King Hussein. The two tied the knot in 1972, only a year after Hussein officially divorced his second wife. Unsurprisingly, this mismatched couple was a tragedy in the making, but not for the reasons you might expect.
35. He Spread The Love
King Hussein stepped up his peaceful and humanitarian efforts with his third wife, Alia Al-Hussein. The royal couple adopted Abir Muhaisen in 1976. The little girl had lost her biological mother in a plane crash at a Palestinian refugee camp. There was no happy ending here though. Abir would lose another parent in a crash shortly after…
36. His Marriage Crashed
Alia Al-Hussein might have been the love of King Hussein’s life…but we’ll never know. Fate ripped her away from the Hashemite King after less than five years of marriage. Alia lost her life tragically in a helicopter crash in 1977. We don’t know too many details about the circumstances surrounding the incident but we do know that Hussein wasn’t the pilot—maybe he could have used his fancy maneuvers to save her.
37 He Wasn’t Ashamed To Cry
King Hussein was distraught after Alia’s tragic helicopter crash and eventually, he couldn’t hide his pain. Some months following the incident, Hussein visited President Jimmy Carter on official business and broke down in tears. The American president offered the Jordanian king a place to stay and clear his head which he accepted. But there was more heartbreak around the corner.
38. He Broke Protocol
Shortly after losing his wife, the King underwent what some call the darkest moment of his reign. A Jordanian soldier with mental issues committed a mass shooting, ironically on “the Island of Peace.” The terrifying attack claimed the lives of seven Israeli schoolchildren and injured six other people. But in the face of such hatred, King Hussein’s response cemented him as international ambassador for peace.
39. He Was Brought To His Knees
The Island of Peace incident so disturbed King Hussein that he did something few—if any—royals have ever done. King Hussein visited the families of the schoolchildren who had tragically lost their lives and stunned them with his humility. He got down on his knees in front of the families to show his solidarity with them in their time of suffering.
40. He Was In A Real-Life Thriller
Later in his life, King Hussein had another run-in with the Israeli authorities. In 1997, the Israeli prime minister ordered a James Bond-style mission. He told Mossad agents to poison the head of Hamas (who just so happened to be a Jordanian citizen). The agents made their way into Jordan using fake passports and began to carry out their mission…
41. He Felt Insulted
The men managed to inject the poison into their target’s ear, but in the nick of time, Jordanian authorities captured some of the agents. King Hussein demanded that Netanyahu give him the antidote to save the Jordanian citizen. However, Netanyahu declined. That is, until the Lion of Jordan threatened to storm the Israeli embassy.
42. His Lucky Number Was Four
King Hussein loved flying—so it’s not surprising that he found love in the air. Hussein’s fourth and final wife was Noor Al-Hussein, Queen of Jordan. The two met while Noor was working for Alia Airlines and became friendly during Hussein’s period of mourning his third wife’s passing. Finally, there would be some peace in Hussein’s personal life. The two remained married until the end.
43. He Got Bad News
King Hussein was a chronic smoker throughout his life. Finally, in 1998, the Grim Reaper caught up with the Lion of Jordan who had eluded him—with fancy flying moves—for decades. Doctors at the world-famous Mayo Clinic diagnosed Hussein with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and not a lot of time. But even in his weakened state, he was still spreading joy.
44. He Threw Great Parties
King Hussein began receiving chemotherapy treatment at Mayo Clinic. Knowing that he didn’t have much time left, the Hashemite royal decided to make every moment count. He prepared a birthday party for one of the janitors in the hospital. The kind and simple gesture moved the janitor to tears. And there would be more tears to come.
45. He Closed His Eyes
After decades of trying to bring peace to his kingdom and the rest of the world—and defying his would-be killers—King Hussein finally closed his weary eyes. The Lion of Jordan fell into a coma after internal organ failure and passed away in the hospital in Amman. Thousands of Jordanians braved the rain to stand outside of the hospital and pay their respects to their great king.
46. He Was Beloved By His People
Almost one million people braved the bitter cold and flocked out onto the streets of Amman to attend King Hussein’s funeral procession. At the ceremony, Bill Clinton said, “I don’t think I have ever seen a greater outpouring of the world’s appreciation and the world’s love for a human being than I’ve seen today.” And so, having attained peace, the Lion of Jordan slept.
47. He Was A Peacemaker
In a way, Hussein managed to accomplish his life goal—peace. The entire world mourned his loss and even bitter foes put their differences aside to attend his funeral. The Jordanian citizen, Khaled Mashal, who had been poisoned by Mossad agents just a few years earlier sat in the same room with the people who had ordered his demise.
48. His Family Tree Was In Question
In 1989, in a Los Angeles courtroom, astonishing evidence came to light. It would implicate the King of Jordan in a huge Hollywood scandal. The evidence showed that “the Keeper of the King’s Purse” had been sending $1,500 a month to his old flame, Susan Cabot. And it wasn’t rent money. The evidence painted a picture in which King Hussein was the biological father of Cabot’s son, Timothy Scott Roman, and the money was child support. And things got even wilder from there…
49. His Son Might Be Bad To The Bone
As it turns out, King Hussein’s maybe-son, Timothy Scott Roman, had little in common with his maybe-father. Where the King of Jordan sought peace, Roman, well, didn’t. In 1989, Roman found himself in court for something his kingly father would never have done. The potentially rightful heir to the Jordanian throne was on trial for having bludgeoned his mother with a weightlifting bar.
50. The CIA Was In On It
Oh, and as if all that somehow isn’t enough, guess what? It isn’t even over. Uncovered CIA files revealed that the entire “romance” between the King and Susan Cabot had been fabricated by the US government. America wanted to cozy up to the powerful new ruler and decided to curry favor by making sure he had a good time with an American girl. You can’t make this stuff up!