Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi has been sick several times and has died. While fending off repeated legal and marriage problems, the millionaire businessman founded Italy’s largest media firm, changing the country’s political landscape. In recent months, he has experienced multiple attacks of illness. In 2020, he became ill with COVID-19 and was hospitalized; he later called it “perhaps the most difficult ordeal of my life.” Doctors confirmed he was hospitalized with leukemia and a lung infection in April 2023.
On Friday, he was admitted to a hospital in Milan to undergo what his staff has described as “pre-planned tests” for his leukemia. It leaves a “huge void” because Berlusconi was a “great man,” Italy’s defense minister Guido Crosetto tweeted on Monday. I cared deeply about him. “Farewell, Silvio,” Crosetto concluded. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party was in coalition with the far-right leader who came to office last year, Premier Giorgia Meloni, although he did not serve in the government.
For Alan Friedman, who wrote a biography of Berlusconi titled My Way, the late prime minister was a “very historical figure in post-war Italian history,” as he said to Al Jazeera. “Berlusconi was a divisive figure,” he remarked. When it came to populism in Italy in the 1990s, he was the prototypical figure. His admirers loved him dearly, even though he often stirred up controversy.
Reporter Hoda Abdel-Hamid stated that Berlusconi had a “quiet night” in Sardinia. But then, this morning, things started moving at a breakneck pace. His family and closest friends, including his brother, were notified. And then, not long after that, the hospital released a statement saying that Berlusconi had passed away from leukemia, for which he had been hospitalized earlier this year.
He was a political power broker. His right-wing coalition party is still in power, with Meloni at the helm. He has had a significant effect on Italian politics. He served as prime minister longer than any other leader. However, he also had an everyday effect on Italians because he and his company, Mediaset, revolutionized television. He affected Italian culture and the media, for better or worse.
The years of scandals
Some people made fun of Berlusconi as he got older because of his fake tan, hair transplants, and decades-younger live-in partners. Despite his many personal scandals, Berlusconi remained popular and untouchable for a long time.
Several criminal proceedings were filed against him, but they were all dismissed either because the statute of limitations had expired or because he had won the appeal.
The entrepreneur was investigated for his involvement in the AC Milan soccer team, the country’s three largest private television networks, publications, a daily newspaper, advertising, and film companies, and the infamous “bunga bunga” parties he threw for young ladies and children.
One instance involving tax fraud related to selling movie rights within his business empire resulted in a conviction. The highest criminal court in Italy upheld the verdict in 2013, but due to his advanced age (76), he was instead sentenced to community work helping those with Alzheimer’s disease.
According to anti-corruption legislation, he was nevertheless forced to resign from the Senate and forbidden from seeking or holding public office for six years.
While in office, he maintained control of Forza Italia, the center-right party he founded in the 1990s and named after the soccer chant “Let’s go Italy.” Voters began to abandon it when they saw no obvious heir apparent.
At age 82, he was elected to the European Parliament, and only last year, he was sworn in as a senator for Italy.
Berlusconi’s party lost its position as the dominant force on the Italian political right to the League, a group run by the anti-immigrant populist Matteo Salvini, and then Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, a group with neo-fascist roots. Meloni used their support to establish a ruling coalition after the 2022 elections.
He was also subjected to certain private humiliations.
Although Berlusconi still has vast media holdings and luxurious real estate, he is no longer Italy’s wealthiest person.
“He will be remembered as a divisive character who did not significantly advance economic policy or bring about significant reforms in Italy. And safeguarding himself was his top priority. Friedman predicts that history will remember him as “a brilliant but flawed figure.”