Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian PM who bounced back from sex scandals and corruption allegations, has died aged 86.
He died at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan, according to Italian media.
In April, Berlusconi was treated for a lung infection linked to chronic leukaemia. His death leaves a “huge void”, Italy’s defence minister said.
A flamboyant billionaire media tycoon, Berlusconi first came to office in 1994 and led four governments until 2011.
He led the centre-right Forza Italia party which went into coalition under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni after elections in September, when he was elected to Italy’s upper house, the Senate.
Reacting to the news, Ms Meloni remembered her predecessor as a “fighter”. In a video message, she said he remained “one of the most influential men in the history of Italy”.
Her deputy Matteo Salvini said he was “broken” and thanked Berlusconi for his “friendship”, “advice” and “generosity”.
Meanwhile Defence Minister Guido Crosetto said: “An era is over… Farewell Silvio.” His death left a “huge void”, Mr Crosetto added in a tweet.
The former leader had been suffering from a rare form of blood cancer, chronic myelomonocyte leukaemia, doctors at San Raffaele revealed in April.
So far, there has been no official confirmation of the immediate cause of death. He has had repeated health problems since contracting Covid in 2020.
Born in 1936 in Milan, Berlusconi began his career selling vacuum cleaners, before setting up a construction company.
He went on to become one of Italy’s richest men, building a vast business empire that included television networks, publishing companies and advertising agencies.
On top of that, he gained international recognition as owner of legendary football club AC Milan – which he saved from bankruptcy in 1986 – before going into politics in the 1990s.
Former AC Milan player and manager Carlo Ancelotti, who now manages the Real Madrid team, remembered Berlusconi as a “loyal, intelligent, sincere man”.
Mr Ancelotti, who twice won the Champions League with AC Milan under Berlusconi’s ownership, said the former PM had been a fundamental part of his journey “as a football player first, and then as a coach”.
Berlusconi was a polarising politician. He was praised by supporters for his business acumen and populist verve, but reviled by critics for his disregard for the rule of law.
Throughout his political career, he faced a string of legal troubles, including charges of bribery, tax fraud, and sex with an underage prostitute. He was convicted on several occasions, but avoided jail because of his age and the expiration of statutes of limitations.
Berlusconi’s passing marks the end of an era in Italian politics and media, and leaves a complex and controversial legacy that will be debated for years to come.