Sihanouk, Norodom (nōrōdŭmˈ sĭhənŭkˈ) [key], 1922–2012, king of Cambodia (1941–55, 1993–2004), b. Phnom Penh. Sihanouk was educated in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and Paris and was elected king by a royal council in 1941. During World War II he was held a virtual prisoner by Japanese occupation forces. After the war he adopted (1947) a constitution that made Cambodia a limited monarchy and achieved (1949) some autonomy for his country within the French Union. Following the first elections (1950), however, Sihanouk dissolved the assembly and ruled by decree. He became prime minister as well as king in 1951 and appointed a cabinet made up largely of members of the royal family. He also campaigned for complete independence, which was finally granted in 1953.
In 1955 he abdicated in favor of his father, Norodom Suramarit, but retained the premiership and control of the Popular Socialist Community party, which he had founded. As premier he took Cambodia out of the French Union. After his father's death (1960) he again became head of state, although not king. Initially neutral in foreign affairs, he broke (1965) diplomatic relations with the United States when Cambodians were killed during South Vietnamese and U.S. incursions in the Vietnam War.
In Mar., 1970, Sihanouk was overthrown by a rightist coup led by Lon Nol, who opposed his policy of allowing Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops to use Cambodian territory. He set up a government in exile in Beijing. When the Khmer Rouge won control of Cambodia, Sihanouk returned (1975) as head of state but in 1976 was placed under house arrest. In 1981–82, once again in exile, he forged a coalition with the Khmer Rouge and others to oppose the Cambodian government imposed by the Vietnamese after their 1978 invasion. After a UN-sponsored peace treaty came into effect (1991), Sihanouk returned to Cambodia, now as an ally of Premier Hun Sen and an opponent of the Khmer Rouge. He became head of state (1991) and, under a new constitution, king (1993). He abdicated in 2004 in favor of his son Norodom Sihamoni.
See his memoirs, My War with the CIA (1973), ed. by W. Burchett and Shadow over Angkor (2005), ed. by J. A. Jeldres; see also J. Lacouture, The Demigods (tr. 1970); M. E. Osborne, Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness (1994).