Billionaire and media baron Silvio Berlusconi dominated Italian politics from 1994 until he resigned in 2011, having served three times as prime minister (1994-95, 2001-06 and 2008-11).
A native of Milan, Berlusconi earned a degree in law in 1961, but went into the construction business. His success as a developer during the 1960s allowed him to get into the TV business in the early 1970s with Telemilano, which grew into Mediaset, one of Italy's largest media companies.
A gifted salesman, Berlusconi became a billionaire through holdings in media, food, insurance, advertising and construction.
He formed the political party Forza Italia in 1993 in response to corruption scandals that had weakened the Italian government, and took office as prime minister the following year.
Despite a parade of lawsuits and scandals of his own -- from accusations of tax fraud to a 2010 sex scandal involving an underage prostitute -- Silvio Berlusconi remained the most powerful man in Italian politics, in and out of office, for 17 years.
In 2011, however, a prolonged financial crisis and three pending trials finally proved too much, and Berlusconi resigned as prime minister. He was convicted of tax fraud in Milan in October of 2012 and sentenced to four years in prison; he remained free while appealing the verdict but was banned from running for office until 2019 (a ban he fought).Elected to the European Parliament in 2019, Berlusconi was the oldest serving member but not much of a participant, thanks in large part to getting the Covid virus. After a series of hospitalizations, he died in 2023.
Silvio Berlusconi’s 2010 sex scandal spawned the term “bunga bunga,” an ill-defined but naughty-sounding phrase that came from the testimony of “Ruby,” the 17 year-old prostitute Berlusconi befriended. Ruby told authorities that she had attended “bunga bunga parties” at Berlusconi’s Milan villa. German actress Sabina Began claimed in 2011 that “Bunga Bunga” was her nickname, and that she organized parties for Berlusconi… The political party he formed took its name from a popular cheer for the football team AC Milan (and Berlusconi co-wrote the team’s anthem).
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