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Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former showman leader, dies at 86

FILE - Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi waves to reporters as he arrives at the Chamber of Deputies to meet Mario Draghi, in Rome, Feb. 9, 2021. 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, according to Italian media. He was 86. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)

Rome (CNN) — Silvio Berlusconi, the flamboyant billionaire and former Italian prime minister who once described himself as the “Jesus Christ of politics,” has died at a Milan hospital at the age of 86, his press office confirmed on Monday.

Berlusconi, who had a recent history of health issues, had recently been diagnosed with leukemia, Milan’s San Raffaele Hospital said. He had been admitted to the hospital before with breathing problemsand attended a check-up there on Friday.

The politician, who was long regarded as Italy’s most colorful public figure, was elected prime minister three times and served for a total of nine years, longer than anyone since fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Affectionately nicknamed “Il Cavaliere” (The Knight), his career was marked by a series of political, financial and personal scandals, many of which landed him in court. 

He was tried on charges ranging from tax evasion and bribery to corruption and having sex with an underage prostitute. But only one case stuck – a 2012 conviction for tax evasion in a deal involving television rights. 

Berlusconi was voted out of parliament in 2013. But never one to give up the fight, he re-emerged in early 2018 as a kind of grandfatherly elder statesman, the kingmaker of a right-wing alliance involving his Forza Italia party.

After the Court of Milan granted him “rehabilitation” later that year, effectively lifting the ban on him re-entering politics that was in place following his 2012 tax fraud conviction, he announced he would run for a seat in the European Parliament.

He was elected in May 2019, at 83 years old, and remained in office as a Member of the European Parliament at the time of his death.

Berlusconi also led his Forza Italia party, which he revived in 2013 after leaving the People of Freedom party, to victory with the center-right coalition with Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini in September 2022, though he did not have a government portfolio.