Silvio Berlusconi, billionaire media mogul and former Italian prime minister, dies at 86

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Silvio Berlusconi gestures before a 2016 soccer match between his AC Milan and SS Lazio in Milan, Italy.

Marco Luzzani | Getty Images

Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire media mogul who served as Italian prime minister multiple times between 1994 and 2011, has died. He was 86.

Berlusconi died at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, according to local media. CNBC was not immediately able to verify the reports.

The tycoon suffered from several serious ailments, including Covid-19, which resulted in repeated hospitalizations beginning in September 2020. Last month, he was discharged from hospital where he received six weeks of treatment for a lung infection linked to chronic leukemia.

Berlusconi’s extensive political career included appointments as Italian prime minister from 1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2011. He worked as a member of the European Parliament since 2019, where he also served from 1999 to 2001. His Forza Italia party is currently a junior partner in Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s ruling right-wing coalition.

Berlusconi entertained several business ventures in tandem with his political tenure, accruing a fortune estimated at around $7 billion in June. He was the controlling shareholder of Italy’s largest commercial broadcaster, Mediaset, whose shares rose over 5% on Monday morning.

The former Italian leader had promised — but failed — to sell his assets in the media company when he was prime minister. He also owned the Italian soccer club AC Milan from 1986 to 2017.

Married twice with five children, Berlusconi faced numerous scandals and trials over tax schemes and sexual escapades. He was once convicted, but later cleared, of charges of sex with 17-year-old nightclub dancer, Karima El-Mahroug, at one of his wild “bunga bunga” parties. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and banned from public office for life — only to be acquitted two years later by Italy’s highest court.

‘Goodbye Silvio’

Italian policymakers paid tribute to Berlusconi via social media on Monday.

Italy’s Meloni said Berlusconi’s “courage” and “determination” made him “one of the most influential men of Italian history.”

“Those qualities allowed him to bend the world of politics, communication and entrepreneurship,” she said on Twitter, according to an NBC translation. “Farewell Silvio.”

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini described Berlusconi as a “great friend” and acknowledged the former leader’s “friendship,” “advice” and “generosity.”

Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto, meanwhile, said Berlusconi’s death leaves a “huge void” and marked the end of an era. “I loved him very much. Goodbye Silvio.”

Berlusconi seen casting his vote during the Lombardy regional elections in Milan, Italy on February 12, 2023.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

“Silvio Berlusconi made history in this country,” Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Twitter.

“Many loved him, many hated him: everyone today must recognize that his impact on political but also economic, sporting and television life was unprecedented,” he added, according to a translation.

World leaders also shared their condolences. In a letter addressed to Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Russian President Vladimir Putin described Berlusconi as a “true friend” and an “outstanding” politician.

“Berlusconi will be remembered in Russia as a consistent and principled supporter of strengthening friendly relations between our countries,” the Russian leader said, according to translated remarks published on the Kremlin’s official website.

“During each of our meetings, I was literally charged with his incredible vitality, optimism and sense of humor. His death is an irreparable loss and great sorrow,” Putin said.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban shared a black-and-white image of himself shaking hands with Berlusconi, with the message, “Gone is the great fighter.”

CNBC Politics

Berlusconi was not always beloved by the people during his nine-year stint as prime minister, which sealed him as the third-longest head of government in Italy after statesman Giovanni Giolitti and fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

At a 2009 campaign rally during his last stint as premier, Berlusconi was struck in the face by a mentally ill man wielding a statuette of the Milan cathedral. The bloody attack broke Berlusconi’s nose, cut his lip and knocked out two teeth.

Correction: Giovanni Giolitti was an Italian statesman. An earlier version misidentified him.

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