Byline: Marian Christy, Globe Staff
Memo/Corrections: CONVERSATIONS / MARIAN CHRISTY
SO BOSTON GLOBE (BOGL)
LP * NEW YORK - Princess Yasmin Aga Khan looks like a movie star and reflects strict religious values, such as honor thy mother and thy father. Perhaps it's her heritage.
TX Her late mother was film actress Rita Hayworth, and her late father was Prince Aly Khan. The princess' late grandfather, H.H. * Mohammed Sultan Shah Aga Khan, was the spiritual leader of the * Ismaili Moslems, a title now held by her half-brother, Karim Aga Khan. When the princess was 3, her parents were divorced. When she was 10, her father died. Rita Hayworth, who died at 66 on May 15, 1987, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. With the help of nurses, the princess cared for her mother round-the-clock in a Manhattan apartment next to hers. The princess is on the board of directors of the Chicago-based Alzheimer's Association and is the president of Alzheimer's Disease International. She hopes to be instrumental in finding the cause and a cure for the disease. In this rare personal interview in her apartment, the princess, 39, speaks poignantly about the devastating impact of the disease on her life. Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, the princess is a 1969 graduate of Buxton High School in Williamstown, Mass., and a 1973 graduate of Bennington College. Last month she married real estate developer Christopher * Michael Jeffries. She has a 3-year-old son, Andrew Ali Aga Khan Embiricos, from her marriage to Greek shipping heir Basil Embiricos. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1987. "I was devoted to my mother. It was a natural feeling. She had an incredible career. But she also had her difficulties. "I watched her go through the stages of her illness, the regressions. I felt helpless. I didn't want to institutionalize her. But the question always was: When is she really going to fall apart? It was like living on eggshells. "There were times I thought I couldn't cope. I felt bombarded. During the most intense times, I was supported by an old friend, a psychologist. I talked to him. I discussed my feelings. I tried to understand myself and my mother's condition. "That's how I found the strength to go on. It was a fight on my part. I brought my will into focus. I've had a fairly easy life. The challenge for me was to do as much as I could for my mother so that later, when it was time for me to die, I would feel peaceful about my efforts. "Alzheimer's disease leads to senility. It also leads to loss of dignity. My mother had always been very conscious of herself. She always ate correctly and had excellent manners. Then she became incontinent. She couldn't even speak. All she could do was mumble-jumble. "Before she was sick, it was always possible to talk to my mother. She was shy and withdrawn but she always communicated with me. She showed an interest in me. What bonded us is that we could always talk openly about our feelings for one another. "There were times she was miserable and I knew it. And she knew that I knew. If she was in a personal relationship that wasn't working for her, she didn't share that with me. But even then, I felt for her. I understood. "Sometimes, she would lash out in anger at me, or at anyone. But I considered that a passing storm. She was frustrated. "When I was 8, she had me brought to her movie set to watch her performance. She was so magnificent-looking. She could always transform herself into the character she played. When I saw her act, she seemed 100 times bigger than her real self. "Later, at home, there she was in her bathrobe and slippers. We would swim in the pool together. She never let her public image interfere with our relationship. "My mother was strict. If I wanted to date someone, the boy had to come and have dinner with her first. She was also strict in terms of cleanliness. She disliked disorganized closets. She always worried about me if I went out at night. "Then she got sick. "The breakup of her marriage to my father had a major impact on her. Then my father died when I was 10. Psychologically, their separation, their divorce and then his death hit her badly. "Her equilibrium was out of balance. She was jolted and it made her susceptible to illness. "Alzheimer's set in, only we didn't know it was Alzheimer's. What I know is that if you're severely disturbed emotionally, you can become severely disturbed physically. "My mother denied the painful realities of her sickness by turning to alcohol. She became fearful. She drank herself sick. Her liver was swollen. By the time she was diagnosed as having Alzheimer's, she was too far gone to really understand what was happening to her. "She was losing her memory. She tried to hang on for dear life. I wish I could have helped her sooner. I wish she had said to me: 'Help! I'm drowning!' I wish I could have found her the right doctor. "That's what I regret. Not being able to do enough for her. "She had outbursts of rage. She didn't understand her awkward behavior. I wish I could have helped her get it under control so that she didn't embarrass herself. Or me. And she did. "Oh yes, I'm scared about inheriting the disease. "If my mind gets blocked, I think: 'Oh, God, I've got the beginnings of Alzheimer's.' If I have difficulty expressing myself, my reaction is the same. "I'm self-conscious about Alzheimer's. I've talked to my husband about this. I don't want to be a burden to anyone. I'd want to be able to pull the plug. I know how hard it is for the victim and the caretaker. "My mother was witty. She wasn't either a trickster or someone who dealt in malicious practical jokes. But she could laugh when things went wrong. "She tried to hide the fact that senility was setting in, that she couldn't remember the name of her hotel or how to count to 10 or who was president of the United States. She'd giggle and go on to something else. "I have good memories of my father. When we were together, he was warm and tender with me. Together, we rode horses on the beach. We played tennis together. I was always on his knee when he played bridge. He made me feel loved and welcome. My father made me feel special. "A good marriage is based on luck. You have to meet the right person. "I've been through relationships that were good in the beginning and then deteriorated into difficulties. For a marriage to work, you have to have the same feelings, the same thoughts, the same ambitions. My mother was married five times. She never found that. "When your child is unborn, you must feel you want the child. I wanted my baby. My mother wanted me. I believe a child should be praised. You can never overpraise. I also believe in physical affection. I believe in hugs and kisses. "That's the way my mother treated me. When she was under the influence of alcohol, she wasn't so positive. But her basic feeling of loving me was always there. Always. "Music is a great comfort to me. "I love harmony. Certain harmonies are clear expressions of joy, of vulnerability and of loneliness. It's like making a connection. "I'm very disciplined. My mother was a disciplined person. She encouraged me to believe there were no boundaries in terms of discovery. She also believed in following a schedule and being disciplined with time. "I do not waste time. Time is very important. I saw how fast time went for my mother." BERTRA;03/07 NKELLY;03/27,21:22 YASMIN26 Caption: PHOTO * Princess Yasmin Aga Khan: "The challenge for me was to do as much as I could for my mother." / Globe photo / Marty Leder-Handler
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