Silvio Berlusconi dead: Italy’s former PM dies aged 86 as cause of death remains unknown


Italy‘s controversial former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – famed for his notorious ‘Bunga Bunga’ sex parties – has died aged 86 after being admitted to hospital with leukaemia last week.

The billionaire businessman created Italy’s largest media company before transforming the country’s political landscape – while fending off multiple legal and sex scandals. His spokesman confirmed his death this morning.

The tycoon was admitted to San Raffaele hospital in Milan on Friday for what aides said were pre-planned tests related to his leukaemia. Berlusconi had been suffering from leukaemia ‘for some time’ and had recently developed a lung infection.

Soon after the news broke that he had died, it was announced that he will have a state funeral in Milan’s cathedral, while Italy declared Wednesday to be a national day of mourning.

‘Silvio Berlusconi’s state funeral will take place on Wednesday June 14 in the Milan Duomo,’ the diocese in the northern Italian city said on its website. 

Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party is part of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing coalition, and although he himself did not have a role in government, his death is likely to destabilise Italian politics in the coming months. 

Italy 's controversial former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has died aged 86 after being admitted to hospital with leukaemia last week. Pictured: Berlusconi and his 33-year-old partner Marta Fascina, who is a Forza Italia MP

Italy ‘s controversial former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has died aged 86 after being admitted to hospital with leukaemia last week. Pictured: Berlusconi and his 33-year-old partner Marta Fascina, who is a Forza Italia MP

The last known photo of Berlusconi, taken as he left the San Raffaele hospital after 45-days of hospitalisation, in Milan, May 19

The last known photo of Berlusconi, taken as he left the San Raffaele hospital after 45-days of hospitalisation, in Milan, May 19

Pictured: The hearse containing the body of media mogul and former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi leaves the San Raffaele Hospital where he died in Milan, Monday June 12

Pictured: The hearse containing the body of media mogul and former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi leaves the San Raffaele Hospital where he died in Milan, Monday June 12

His business empire also faces an uncertain future. He never publicly indicated who would take full charge of his MFE company following his death, even though his eldest daughter Marina is expected to play a prominent role. 

At least two of his daughters – Barbara and Eleonora – were photographed outside the hospital on Monday.

Two members of the Italian government mourned his passing, with Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini calling him in a statement ‘a great man and a great Italian’.

Defence Minister Guido Crosetto wrote on Twitter that Berlusconi’s death amounted to the end of an era. ‘I loved him very much. Farewell Silvio,’ Crosetto said.

AC Milan, the football club which won a host of domestic and European titles under Berlusconi’s ownership, called him ‘unforgettable’ in a tribute after his death on Monday.

Timeline: Silvio Berlusconi’s life in key dates

Key dates in the life and career of Italy’s scandal-tainted former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose death was announced on Monday.

September 29, 1936: Born in Milan.

1961: Starts his real estate career, building residential districts on the outskirts of Milan.

1978: Founds the Fininvest holding company, comprising media, financial services, publishing and, from 1986 to 2017, the Milan AC football club.

1994: Creates that ‘Forza Italia’ (Go Italy) movement, which wins legislative elections, giving him his first stint as prime minister from May to December.

1996: Goes on trial for the first time on corruption charges and is sentenced to 16 months in prison for false accounting, but acquitted on appeal.

2001: Starts a second stint as prime minister after his right-wing alliance wins the general election, serving for five years.

2008: After a new electoral win, returns as prime minister until 2011, resigning in the midst of a national financial crisis that risks bringing down the entire eurozone.

2013: Sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud through his Mediaset media empire, and is stripped of his seat in the Senate. The sentence is commuted to one year of community service, which he serves in a home for Alzheimer’s patients.

2015: Acquitted on appeal after a 2013 conviction for paying for sex with a teenage prostitute and abuse of power in the ‘Rubygate’ or ‘Bunga Bunga’ affair.

2019: Wins a seat in the European Parliament, becoming the assembly’s oldest MEP at age 82.

2020: Spends 11 days in hospital with Covid-19, calling the experience ‘perhaps the most difficult ordeal’ of his life.

2022: Campaigns behind the scenes to become Italy’s president but withdraws before voting begins in parliament. In September’s general election he wins a seat in the Senate, making a triumphant return to politics.

February 2023: The ‘Bunga Bunga’ sex scandal comes to an end when an Italian court acquits him of charges.

April 5, 2023: Admitted to intensive care at a Milan hospital for heart problems. The next day, doctors announce he is suffering from leukaemia and a lung infection.

May 19: Discharged from hospital after more than six weeks of treatment, saying, ‘I won again’.

June 9: Hospitalised for what his doctors say are ‘routine checks’ related to his leukaemia.

June 12: Dies at San Raffaele hospital.

‘Thank you, Mr President. Always with us,’ the club said in a statement, adding it was ‘grieving the passing of the unforgettable Silvio Berlusconi’.

‘Tomorrow, we will dream of new ambitions, create new challenges, and seek new victories which will represent the good, the strong, and the true that lies inside us, in all of us who shared this adventure of binding our lives to a dream called Milan,’ the statement continued.

Carlo Ancelotti, who won two Champions League titles as a player for AC Milan in 1989 and 1990 before then coaching the club to two more European successes in 2003 and 2007, led the tributes to the former club president.

‘Today’s sadness doesn’t erase the happy moments spent together,’ Ancelotti, the current Real Madrid manager, tweeted along with a photo of him standing beside Berlusconi.

‘There remains infinite gratitude to the president, but above all to an ironic, loyal, intelligent, sincere man, fundamental in my adventure as a football player first, and then as a coach. Thanks President.’

As a sign of his stature in Italy, a plan for his coffin to lie in state at the headquarters of his TV empire was on Monday scrapped over public order fears.

It was not immediately clear if this was due to crowd control or some form of protest from political opponents and there was no official comment from other side other than to come it was for public order.

Plans for Berlusconi to lie in state at the Senate in Rome or Milan city hall were also sidelined and instead his funeral will take place on Wednesday afternoon in Milan’s iconic Duomo cathedral.

The state funeral service will be led by the Archbishop of Milan, Mario Delpini and Berlusconi will then buried in a specially constructed masoleum at his villa.

The tomb – built in entirely from marble and opened in 1990 – was designed by architect Pietro Cascella and is called Volta Celeste (Celestial Vault). 

It contains the remains of his parents and also 37 other spaces for other family members and close friends. 

Berlusconi was prime minister for three spells, running from 1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2011. 

His health markedly deteriorated in recent years, with open-heart surgery in 2016 and numerous hospital admissions since contracting Covid-19 three years ago.

The former PM – who was in a relationship with 33-year-old Forza Italia MP Marta Fascina – was discharged from hospital last month after treatment for a lung infection linked to a Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukaemia (CML). 

He was admitted to intensive care in April in the cardiac unit of the San Raffaele hospital after suffering from breathing problems. 

While there, Berlusconi, the leader of the Right-wing Forza Italia party, was diagnosed with a lung infection and CML – a rare blood cancer characterised by high numbers of white blood cells.

He was discharged on May 19 after 45 days in hospital. 

Berlusconi had previously overcome prostate cancer, which he described as ‘a nightmare lasting months’.

But it was his battle with Covid in 2020 which he described as the ‘most dangerous challenge’ of his life. 

The three-time prime minister of Italy, who was embroiled in several scandals – most notably around his ‘Bunga Bunga’ parties – was admitted to hospital with a minor heart problem after fainting in 2006, and underwent heart surgery in a US hospital in January 2007.

The former AC Milan owner, who also had major heart surgery in 2016 to replace an aortic valve, has had a pacemaker for several years.

He was hospitalised again for a reported urinary tract infection in January 2022.  

Despite being diagnosed with leukaemia, he was active in politics to the end as a senator and partner in Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s rightwing government.

The larger-than-life character, who once compared himself to Jesus, was Italy’s longest serving post-war premier but was also plagued by scandal. 

Berlusconi also wielded huge influence through his television and newspaper interests – he effectively invented commercial TV in Italy – his ownership of AC Milan football club, and his sheer wealth, as Italy’s richest person for a decade.

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's daughter, Marina Berlusconi, arrives at 'San Raffaele' hospital on April 6, 2023 - where her father died two months later

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s daughter, Marina Berlusconi, arrives at ‘San Raffaele’ hospital on April 6, 2023 – where her father died two months later

Barbara Berlusconi, the daughter of Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, leaves San Raffaele hospital

Barbara Berlusconi, the daughter of Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, leaves San Raffaele hospital

Eleonora Berlusconi, daughter of Berlusconi, leaves the San Raffaele Hospital

Eleonora Berlusconi, daughter of Berlusconi, leaves the San Raffaele Hospital 

Members of the media outside San Raffaele hospital where former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi died

Members of the media outside San Raffaele hospital where former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi died

G20 leaders (from left) then US President Barack Obama, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev pose for a photo during the G20 summit at the ExCel centre, in east London, on April 2, 2009

G20 leaders (from left) then US President Barack Obama, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev pose for a photo during the G20 summit at the ExCel centre, in east London, on April 2, 2009

Italian prime minister Berlusconi and Miss Italia 2008 Miriam Leone

Italian prime minister Berlusconi and Miss Italia 2008 Miriam Leone

Long before Donald Trump parlayed his business success into a White House bid, Berlusconi charmed millions of Italians by presenting himself as a self-made man who enjoyed life and spoke his mind, even to the extent of insulting fellow leaders.

To his critics, however, the right-winger was a tax-evading playboy who used his vast media empire to further his political career, and then exploited his power to protect his business interests.

He spent much of his life embroiled in legal action, and the cases around his notorious ‘Bunga Bunga’ sex parties, attended by young girls including underage escorts, were only wrapped up in February 2023.

Despite remaining president of his Forza Italia party, a junior partner in Meloni’s coalition, he had largely retired from public view in recent months.

His friendship with Russian president Vladimir Putin put him at odds with Ms Meloni, a staunch supporter of Ukraine. 

Who will take over Berlusconi’s business empire?

Berlusconi never publicly indicated who should lead his business empire after his death.

The future of his business interests will likely depend on how he has chosen to distribute his 61 per cent stake in family holding company Fininvest between his five children from two marriages. His eldest daughter Marina is expected to play a prominent role.

THE ELDEST HEIRS

The eldest, Marina (born August 1966) and Pier Silvio (April 1969) have both been directly involved in running Berlusconi’s companies since soon after their father made his entry into Italian politics in the early 1990s.

Marina, who chairs Fininvest, has been overseeing publisher Mondadori while Pier Silvio has been in charge of the TV business which has long been the jewel in the family’s crown.

THREE YOUNGER CHILDREN

Barbara (July 1984), Eleonora (May 1986) and Luigi (September 1988), the children Berlusconi had with his second wife, have not had any such high-profile executive roles in the management of their father’s businesses.

Luigi assumed the task of representing his side of the family at Fininvest, where he is a board member, on the back of his focus on finance and wealth management.

SILVIO AS ‘THE GLUE’

People close to the family described Silvio Berlusconi as ‘the glue’ who kept his children united, despite their age range and differing attitudes and ambitions.

The big question is whether family unity can be maintained after Berlusconi’s departure and what impact that might have on the future of the TV business on which Berlusconi built his fortunes.

SLIMMING DOWN

In recent years Fininvest liquidated assets which it deemed no longer strategic, from European soccer champions AC Milan to stakes in biotech firm MolMed and Italian merchant bank Mediobanca.

The family holding company has confirmed its commitment to its TV business MediaforEurope, supporting plans to grow in Europe to resist the US streaming giants through M&A deals.

But it remains to be seen if this ambition will be sustained after the death of the founder.

Reporting by Reuters 

On his 86th birthday, while the war raged, Putin sent Berlusconi best wishes and vodka, and the Italian boasted he returned the favour by sending back Italian wine.

He suffered increasing health problems – although he maintained his pride in his appearance, always smartly dressed, his slicked-back hair never showing the slightest trace of grey.

But as Berlusconi aged, some derided his perpetual tan, hair transplants and live-in girlfriends who were decades younger. For many years, however, Berlusconi seemed untouchable despite the personal scandals.

Berlusconi burst on to the political scene in the early 1990s, after building up a media and real estate business, where he was viewed as a breath of fresh air after a period of corruption and scandal.

Pitching himself as a modern Italian success story, and backed by his TV stations and newspapers, he secured his first election victory in 1994 with his new movement, Forza Italia (Go Italy!), named after a football chant.

He lasted as prime minister for only nine months, but bounced back with another election win in 2001 after a populist campaign promising jobs and economic growth, signing a ‘Contract with Italians’ live on television.

He served until 2006, and returned again as prime minister between 2008 and 2011, making him the longest-serving premier in Italy’s post-war history.

He was forced to quit as debt-laden Italy – the eurozone’s third largest economy – came under intense pressure during the financial crisis.

The tenure of the man dubbed ‘Il Cavaliere’ (The Knight) divided Italians, as much as over his policies – including his controversial decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq – as his entire approach to life.

To admirers, the three-time premier was a capable and charismatic statesman who sought to elevate Italy on the world stage.

To critics, he was a populist who threatened to undermine democracy by wielding political power as a tool to enrich himself and his businesses.

Throughout his time in office, prosecutors snapped at his heels, even as his supporters in parliament passed laws to shield him and his allies.

Criminal cases were launched but ended in dismissals when statutes of limitations ran out in Italy’s slow-moving justice system, or he was victorious on appeal.

Investigations targeted the tycoon’s steamy so-called ‘Bunga Bunga’ parties involving young women and minors, or his businesses, which included the football team AC Milan, the country’s three biggest private TV networks, magazines and a daily newspaper, and advertising and film companies.

Only one probe led to a conviction – a tax fraud case stemming from a sale of movie rights in his business empire.

The conviction was upheld in 2013 by Italy’s top criminal court, but he was spared prison because of his age, 76, and was ordered to do community service by assisting Alzheimer’s patients.

He still was stripped of his senate seat and banned from running or holding public office for six years, under anti-corruption laws.

Matteo Salvini, leader of League, Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Forza Italia, Giorgia Meloni, leader of Brothers of Italy, attend the closing rally of the Center right coalition, on September 22

Matteo Salvini, leader of League, Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Forza Italia, Giorgia Meloni, leader of Brothers of Italy, attend the closing rally of the Center right coalition, on September 22

His friendship with Russian president Vladimir Putin put him at odds with Ms Meloni, a staunch supporter of Ukraine. On his 86th birthday, while the war raged, Putin sent Berlusconi best wishes and vodka, and the Italian boasted he returned the favour by sending back Italian wine. Pictured: The pair together in 2010

His friendship with Russian president Vladimir Putin put him at odds with Ms Meloni, a staunch supporter of Ukraine. On his 86th birthday, while the war raged, Putin sent Berlusconi best wishes and vodka, and the Italian boasted he returned the favour by sending back Italian wine. Pictured: The pair together in 2010

He suffered personal humiliations as well. 

Berlusconi lost his standing as Italy’s richest man, although his sprawling media holdings and luxury property still left him a billionaire several times over.

In 2013, guests at one of his parties included an under-age Moroccan dancer whom prosecutors alleged had sex with Berlusconi in exchange for cash and jewellery.

After a trial spiced by lurid details, a Milan court initially convicted Berlusconi of paying for sex with a minor and using his office to try to cover it up. Both denied having sex with each other, and he was eventually acquitted.

The Catholic Church, at times sympathetic to his conservative politics, was scandalised by his antics, and his wife of nearly 20 years divorced him. But  Berlusconi was unapologetic, declaring: ‘I’m no saint.’

Berlusconi insisted that voters were impressed by his brashness.

‘The majority of Italians in their hearts would like to be like me and see themselves in me and in how I behave,’ he said in 2009, during his third and final stint as premier.

He boasted of his libido and entertained friends and world leaders at his villas. At one party, newspapers reported the women were dressed as ‘little Santas’. At another, photos showed topless women and a naked man lounging poolside.

An unrepentant Berlusconi said in 2010: ‘I love life! I love women!’

Despite the multiple court cases – he claimed in 2021 he had gone through 86 trials – he never spent any time behind bars and successfully appealed convictions for fraud and corruption early in his political career.

He was also long suspected of links to the mafia, but strongly denied it.

Despite the multiple court cases - Berlusconi (pictured in September 2022) claimed in 2021 he had gone through 86 trials - he never spent any time behind bars and successfully appealed convictions for fraud and corruption early in his political career

Despite the multiple court cases – Berlusconi (pictured in September 2022) claimed in 2021 he had gone through 86 trials – he never spent any time behind bars and successfully appealed convictions for fraud and corruption early in his political career

From owning AC Milian to ‘Bunga Bunga’ parties: Who was Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former prime minister?

Berlusconi was born in 1936 in Milan to a bank employee father and a housewife mother. He went on to father five children, all involved in the running of his business empire.

As a young man, he was quick to realise his talents as an entertainer.

A huge fan of Nat King Cole, he played double bass in a band and made club audiences laugh with jokes during breaks from his law studies at the University of Milan.

As a student, he worked briefly as a cruise ship singer before launching a lucrative career in the booming construction sector in his 20s, which delivered his first fortune.

These funds were used to build a vast conglomerate spanning shops, cinemas, publishers, newspapers and cable television, where he broke new ground with commercial programmes filled with scantily clad women.

Crucially for his public persona, his empire also included football, one of Italy’s great passions.

As well as providing money for AC Milan, he regularly delivered dressing room and training ground pep talks during a period in which the club became one of the world’s most celebrated and trophied success stories.

Silvio Berlusconi, president of AC Milan, lifts the Champions League trophy with his team after they won the European Cup against Benfica in 1990, in Vienna, Austria

Silvio Berlusconi, president of AC Milan, lifts the Champions League trophy with his team after they won the European Cup against Benfica in 1990, in Vienna, Austria

Five of AC Milan’s seven European Cup/Champions League triumphs were achieved under Berlusconi’s 31-year ownership.

He sold the club in 2017 after years of lacklustre performances, and in 2018 bought Monza, then in Italy’s third tier.

On the world stage, Berlusconi was known for his friendships with the likes of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Russian president Vladimir Putin – the latter of whom he controversially defended following the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

He had no time for traditional diplomacy, once likening a German European MP to a Nazi and describing former US president Barack Obama as ‘suntanned’.

His image was further tarnished when lurid details emerged of his sex parties at his villa near Milan with its private disco, during a hugely embarrassing trial involving a 17-year-old nightclub dancer.

Berlusconi was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2013 for paying for sex with Karima El-Mahroug, known as ‘Ruby the Heart Stealer’ – but this was later overturned after the judge said there was reasonable doubt that he knew she was underage.

He then stood accused of bribing witnesses to lie about his parties, which he always insisted were elegant dinners. He was acquitted in three related trials.

A relationship with another teenager led to the end of his second marriage with former actress Veronica Lario, who left him in 2009 over his ‘cavorting with minors’.

In March 2022, he held a bizarre fake wedding with his girlfriend Marta Fascina, then 32.



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