The former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has died aged 86.
The media tycoon, who led three Italian governments between 1994 and 2011 and whose Forza Italia party is a junior partner in the current ruling coalition, had been suffering from leukaemia for some time.
Berlusconi was one of Italy’s most flamboyant politicians, making a political comeback in 2017 despite a career tainted by sex scandals, countless allegations of corruption and a tax fraud conviction.
He spent six weeks at Milan’s San Raffaele’s hospital this spring, undergoing treatment for a lung infection linked to a chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia, before being readmitted.
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 and his second term in office, between 2001 and 2006, is 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% 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.
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.