Silvio Berlusconi: Former Italian prime minister dies aged 86

Billionaire businessman created Italy’s largest media company before transforming political landscape

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has died. Photograph: AP

The former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has died aged 86.

The media tycoon, who led three governments between 1994 and 2011 and whose Forza Italia party is a junior partner in Italy’s ruling coalition, had been diagnosed with leukaemia some time ago.

Berlusconi was one of Italy’s most flamboyant politicians, making a comeback in 2017 despite a career tainted by sex scandals, allegations of corruption and a tax fraud conviction.

He died at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan, where he had spent six weeks this spring undergoing treatment for a lung infection linked to a chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia before being readmitted.


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Born in Milan in 1936 to a middle-class family, Berlusconi began his business career in property development before going on to found Mediaset, Italy’s largest commercial broadcaster. He also owned AC Milan football club between 1986 and 2017.

Forza Italia was founded in 1993. A year later, Berlusconi was the first prime minister to be elected without previously having held a government office. His second term in office, between 2001 and 2006, was the longest served by any Italian leader since the second World War. He returned to power in 2008 but was forced to resign in 2011 amid an acute debt crisis.

Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud in late 2012, for which he served his year-long sentence doing part-time community service at a residential home in Milan. His ban on running for office was lifted in time for the general elections in 2018, when Forza Italia ran in coalition with the League and Brothers of Italy but fell short of the 40 per cent required to govern.

In 2019, Berlusconi won a seat in the European Parliament, and in general elections in October 2022 his party returned to power in a coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy. Berlusconi was also elected as a senator.

Ms Meloni said on Monday: “Silvio Berlusconi was above all a fighter. He was a man who was never afraid to stand up for his convictions, and it was exactly that courage and determination that made him one of the most influential men in the history of Italy.”

Silvio Berlusconi with AC Milan players. File photograph: Luca Bruno/AP

The two had recently disagreed over the war in Ukraine, with Berlusconi announcing that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, had sent him bottles of vodka for his birthday.

On Monday, the Russian embassy in Rome described Berlusconi as a great statesman and visionary, while Mr Putin said he was a “dear person, a true friend”.

“I have always sincerely admired his wisdom, his ability to make balanced, far-sighted decisions even in the most difficult situations,” the Russian leader said.

Pope Francis sent a telegram of condolences to Berlusconi’s family voicing “heartfelt participation in the mourning for the loss of a protagonist of Italian political life, who held public responsibilities with energetic temperament.”

Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister, described Berlusconi as “a great friend and a great Italian man”.

Nicknamed Il Cavaliere (the knight), Berlusconi was often considered the “kingmaker” in Italian politics.

In 2016, he had surgery to replace a faulty aortic valve, and was admitted to hospital with Covid in September 2020. He had lingering complications related to the virus, an experience he described as “the worst of my life”.

He married twice, and was in a relationship with Francesca Pascale (37), for seven years before a relationship with 33-year-old Marta Fascina, an MP with Forza Italia with whom he had a “symbolic marriage” in March 2022. He is survived by five children.

His rivals united in paying tribute. One of the first to react was the former European Commission president Romano Prodi, perhaps Berlusconi’s bitterest political foe. “We represented different and opposing worlds, but our rivalry never turned into sentiments of animosity on a personal level, and the debate remained within the sphere of mutual respect,” Mr Prodi said.

The secretary of the centre-left Democratic Party, Elly Schlein, expressed her party’s “deepest condolences”.

“Everything has divided us and divides us from his political vision, but the human respect to a person who was a protagonist of our country’s history remains,” she said.

Italy’s former prime minister Matteo Renzi described Berlusconi as a history-maker. “Many loved him, many hated him; today everyone must recognise that his impact on political life but also on economic, sporting and television life was unprecedented.”

The world of sport also paid tribute. “I have lost my brilliant friend,” said the former football coach Arrigo Sacchi, whose Milan team won the Champions League in consecutive years.

Berlusconi left AC Milan ownership in 2017 and bought the Monza football club, taking it from Italy’s second division to its top flight.

A statement from Monza said: “Forever with us. A void that can never be filled. Thanks for everything, president.”

Berlusconi’s body is to be transferred to his home at Villa San Martino in Arcore, north of Milan, sources said. His funeral is due to take place at Milan Cathedral on Wednesday. — Guardian Service