Italian Politician and Media Tycoon Silvio Berlusconi Dies at 86

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi walks during a meeting with Vietnamese President

Three-time Italian Prime Minister and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi died Monday at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan, where he had been hospitalized since last Friday for chronic leukemia.

Known affectionately as “Il Cavaliere” (the Knight), Berlusconi is survived by his brother Paolo, his five children Pier Silvio, Barbara, Marina, Luigi, and Eleonora, and ten grandchildren.

Berlusconi began his career in the construction industry and moved on to media and sports, later founding the center-right Forza Italia political party.

In 1977, Berlusconi saved the Italian daily Il Giornale, founded by the journalist Indro Montanelli only three years earlier, from probable bankruptcy, initially buying 12 percent and then 37.5 percent of the paper. He founded a number of television stations eventually agglomerated into his Mediaset media empire in 2015.

In 1986, he purchased the AC Milan soccer team, hiring coach Arrigo Sacchi, who took the team to championship in 1988, two European Cups, 2 Intercontinental Cups and 2 European Super Cups between 1989 and 1990. Later with Fabio Capello, Milan won 4 championships in 5 years, 1 Champions League, 1 UEFA Super Cup in the early 1990s.

Berlusconi finally sold Milan in 2017 after 31 years, becoming the club’s longest-serving and most successful manager, having brought 29 trophies to its showcase, including 8 championships, 5 between the European Cups and Champions League, and 2 Intercontinental Cups.

Berlusconi founded the Forza Italia party in 1993 and on January 26, 1994, announced in a video message his reasons for entering Italian politics.

Silvio Berlusconi holds a press conference announcing his debut in politics at the foreign press conference room on November 26, 1993 in Rome, Italy. (Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

“I’ve decided to take the field and get into politics because I don’t want to live in an illiberal country, governed by immature forces and by men closely linked to a politically and economically bankrupt past,” he said.

In May of that year, Berlusconi was sworn in as Prime Minister, the first prime minister to be elected without ever having held a government post, but this first experience of government lasted just 6 months due to the first blow struck by a politicized judiciary. The Milan Public Prosecutor’s Office under Antonio Di Pietro opened an investigation into Berlusconi’s affairs, forcing him to step down from office.

In 2000, Berlusconi launched his “contract with the Italians,” in which he pledged to reduce taxes, reduce crime, raise minimum pensions, create one and a half million new jobs and launch a major works plan to restart the economy.

His second term in office, from 2001 and 2006, was the longest served by any Italian leader since World War II.

During the early 2000s, the judicial war against Berlusconi also intensified, accusing him of multiple forms of corruption as well as ties with the Mafia, without however ever being able to prove his guilt. Only in 2013 was he finally convicted of tax fraud.


(From L) Leader of  Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni, head of the Forza Italia (Go Italy) Silvio Berlusconi and leader of the League Matteo Salvini, give a joint press conference at the Tempio di Adriano in Rome on March 1, 2018, ahead of Italy’s March 4 general election. (ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)

Berlusconi led three Italian governments between 1994 and 2011. In 2019, he won a seat in the European parliament and in general elections in October 2022 Forza Italia returned to govern as junior partner in a coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia. Berlusconi was also elected as a senator.

Berlusconi managed to bounce back from corruption allegations as well as sex scandals, the latter including his notoriously hedonistic “bunga bunga” parties at his residences in Rome and Sardinia, allegedly involving underage prostitutes.

This spring, he spent six weeks at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan undergoing treatment for a lung infection linked to chronic myelomonocytic leukemia.


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