Italy‘s controversial former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi 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.
Berlusconi – famed for his notorious ‘Bunga Bunga’ sex parties and previously owning Italian football club AC Milan – had been suffering from leukaemia ‘for some time’ and had recently developed a lung infection.
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’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.
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.
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 Silvio Berlusconi’s ownership, called him ‘unforgettable’ in a tribute after his death aged 86 Monday.
‘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, 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.’
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 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.