GENEVA, Switzerland -- Umberto II, the last king of Italy who spent his final years in lonely exile, died Friday at 78 unable to achieve his dream of returning to his beloved Italy in triumph.
'King Umberto has passed away,' said Falcone Lucifero, a spokesman for the House of Savoy. 'His last word was 'Italy.''
Lucifero said Umberto's son, Prince Victor Emmanuel, and the rest of the immediate family were with Umberto at the time if death.
Victor Emmanuel's household said the funeral was tentatively set for next Tuesday at the Benedictine abbey of Hautecombe in the southeastern Savoy region of France.
Although several members of the House of Savoy are buried in the abbey, it was not known if it would be Umberto's final resting place.
In Rome, a Vatican spokesman said Pope John Paul II, who met Umberto in Portugal last May, had been immediately informed of his death. 'The Holy Father was very sad,' he said.
The king, who spend only 35 days on the throne, died in a Geneva clinic where he was being treated for cancer.
Umberto, exiled from Italy in 1946 after voters abolished the monarchy in a referendum, had requested as his dying wish that he be allowed to return to home.
'To see my Rome, my Naples, my Turin once again would be the best dream of my life,' Umberto said on one occasion.
Before being taken to Geneva, Umberto had been receiving treatment in London and many Italians thought the move was the first step in his return to Italy.
Italian Prime Minister Amintore Fanfani urged special measures that would have allowed Umberto's speedy return and other politicians had called for an 'extraordinary visa' allowing him to return home, but no action was taken.
Right to the end, Umberto believed he would one day return home.
In messages from his exile at Cascais in Portugal every New Year's Eve, he addressed the few Italian royalists and anyone else who cared to listen, asserting that the 'monarchy was eliminated in an unclear fashion.'
He also would repeat what he said when he left Italy June 13, 1946: 'Whatever fate awaits our country, it can always count on me as one of its devoted sons.'
His presence on the throne as the last king of the House of Savoy from May 10-June 13, 1946, brought Italy to the brink of civil war, averted when he flew to Lisbon -- banished from his country forever.
He said then and later that he only left to avoid bloodshed.
Diehard monarchists claim that Umberto, who was 41 when he reigned, was tricked out of the throne by a public referendum in which he got 10,709,423 votes to 12,718,019 for the abolitionists.
They say the vote was rigged, but the result was close enough to raise fears of civil war.
For his turbulent reign, Umberto II, born Sept. 15, 1904, as Nicola Tommasso Giovanni Maria of Savoy, held among other titles those of King of Italy, King of Sardinia, King of Cyprus, of Jerusalem and of Armenia, Duke of Savoy, Prince of Carignano, Prince of Piedmont and Prince and Perpetual Vicar of the Holy Roman Empire.
Umberto in fact only got the throne because his father Victor Emmanuel III abdicated in his favor before the May 9, 1946, referendum in a maneuver that almost worked.
Victor Emmanuel was unpopular at the end of World War II because he allowed the Blackshirts of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to come to power in 1922.
Umberto was known for his early dislike of the Fascists and refused to have anything to do with Mussolini until Italy attacked France in 1940.
Then, as a patriot, he became a general in the Italian army.
At the referendum, Italians recalled his anti-Mussolini record and the fact that a similarly inclined sister, Princess Mafalda, died in the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald in 1944.
But the referendum result meant that the flag of the House of Savoy, that had flown in Rome since Italian unity Sept. 20, 1870, was lowered for the last time.
Although all the royal estates and crown jewels were confiscated when Umberto went into exile, there was no shortage of money. The Savoys prudently salted away a fortune largely begun with insurance money paid out when Umberto I was killed by an assassin's bullet at Monza, Italy, July 29, 1900.