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Silvio Berlusconi, controversial former prime minister of Italy, reportedly in intensive care

Rome — Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was in a Milan hospital's intensive care ward Wednesday after suffering heart problems, European news agencies said, citing unnamed sources close to the 86-year-old former politician. Italy's ANSA news agency and French agency AFP both said he had been admitted to the San Raffaele Hospital in the northern Italian city, but they didn't say exactly when.

Silvio Berlusconi, Leader of Forza Italia, casts his vote
Silvio Berlusconi, former Italian premier and leader of the Forza Italia party, casts his vote during Lombardy regional elections in Milan, Italy, February 12, 2023. Piero Cruciatti/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Berlusconi, one of Italy's most charismatic and controversial contemporary leaders, has been in and out of hospitals in recent years.

The former cruise ship singer reinvented himself as a real-estate tycoon and media mogul before entering Italian politics and becoming prime minister for the first of terms in 1994. He then dominated Italian politics and culture for two decades despite — or perhaps in part because of — seemingly endless gaffes.

He once referred to former U.S. President Barack Obama as "sun-tanned," for instance, and quipped that it was "better" to like girls than be gay.

Berlusconi has long painted himself as a victim of "political correctness," but his penchant for the seedier side of wealth and power, including the notorious "Bunga Bunga" sex parties he hosted at his mansions in Milan and Sardinia, and his financial dealings, eventually brought legal repercussions.

He ended up in court accused of paying an underage girl to sleep with him and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Those charges were ultimately overturned, however, and similar scenarios played out in more than 20 separate trials, most of them on corruption, embezzlement and bribery charges.

In six of the cases, the charges were dropped because of new financial laws he helped pass as the nation's leader, decriminalizing the actions involved, or because the statute of limitations had run out.

"All fiction," he would claim in court, railing against "liberal elites," "leftist" judges, and a "hostile media" — despite owning TV channels, magazines, and newspapers himself.

In 2013, charges against Berlusconi finally stuck. He was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to four years in prison, though the sentence was commuted to just one year of community service at a nursing home due to his age.

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