Former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi dies at 86

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Silvio Berlusconi, the boastful billionaire media mogul who was Italy’s longest-serving premier despite scandals over his sex-fueled parties and allegations of corruption, died Monday, according to his television network. He was 86.

Mediaset announced his death with a smiling photo of the man on its homepage and the headline: “Berlusconi is dead.”

Berlusconi was hospitalized on Friday for the second time in months for treatment of chronic leukemia. He also suffered over the years from heart ailments, prostate cancer and was hospitalized for COVID-19 in 2020.

A onetime cruise ship crooner, Berlusconi used his television networks and immense wealth to launch his long political career, inspiring both loyalty and loathing.

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.

His Forza Italia political party was a coalition partner with current Premier Giorgia Meloni, a far-right leader who came to power last year, although he held no position in the government.

His friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin put him at odds with 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 favor by sending back Italian wine.

Former Premier Matteo Renzi recalled Berlusconi’s divisive legacy in a message on Twitter on Monday. “Silvio Berlusconi made history in this country. Many loved him, many hated him. All must recognize that his impact on political life, but also economic, sport and television, has been without precedence.”

League party leader Matteo Salvini called Berlusconi “a great man and a great Italian.”