Jun 12, 2023, 4:50am EDT

Silvio Berlusconi, former Italian prime minister, dies at age 86

Former Italian Prime Minister and leader of the Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party Silvio Berlusconi attends a rally in Rome, Italy, April 9, 2022. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo
REUTERS/Remo Casilli

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Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of Italy’s Forza Italia party and the country’s former premier, has died at age 86.

He had been hospitalized in intensive care for heart concerns and respiratory issues on April 5, and was later diagnosed with leukemia.

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Berlusconi led Italy as prime minister three times between 1994 and 2011. A billionaire, Berlusconi made his fortune in media, founding Fininvest, a media holding company, in the 1970s.

In the 90s, he established the right wing Forza Italia party, which merged with the People of Freedom party in 2009. In 2013, Berlusconi re-established Forza Italia as a separate entity.

The former premier has been the subject of several controversies, and in February was acquitted of charges which alleged that he had paid a minor for sex during a party at his Sardinia estate. He was repeatedly accused of ties to the Sicilian mafia, but the allegations have never been proven.

This year, Berlusconi was criticized for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin and blaming Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the war. “I judge, very, very negatively the behavior of this gentleman,” he said at the time, referring to Zelenskyy.