It was like the episode in Succession when Logan Roy dies: the news arrived on everyone’s phones at the same time. It interrupted business meetings and casual gatherings, and disrupted students taking exams and end-of-season playoff games. It arrives in our offices, in our homes, while we were waiting in the supermarket checkout. Berlusconi is dead.
It was an arresting moment in everyone’s life, all over the country. Everyone’s initial reaction was the same: Are you sure? Students living abroad called their parents to check: is it correct?
Nobody believed it was possible, world builders don’t die. Who saw him, who was with him? Who can confirm? The doctors. The hospital confirmed. Yes, Silvio Berlusconi is dead.
He was 86 years old. He suffered from leukemia. He leaves behind a very large family, confidants and caretakers in huge numbers, a considerable number of widows, five children, none equal to their father, with the possible exception of the firstborn, Marina, but she is a woman in our patriarchal community. and male-centered nation.
He leaves behind a political party, Forza Italia (Come on Italy), a name in itself an exhortation not to give up, which is now destined to disappear without him. He leaves behind a right-wing government he helped create, a country that resembles him deep down, and a left-wing government now bereft of its main enemy.
He leaves behind an unparalleled business empire built from scratch: he was the son of a clerk and a housewife. In 2021, Forbes estimated his personal wealth at $7.3 billion.
Vladimir Putin was one of the first to express condolences: “I have lost a friend.” But Berlusconi’s film company, Medusa, also produced two Italian Oscar winners from two of Italy’s greatest left-wing directors: Paolo Sorrentino’s The great beautyand Gabriele Salvatores’ Mediterranean. So whose nemesis was he exactly?
He served as Prime Minister of Italy four times, leading the country with three interruptions from 1994 to 2011. The longest-serving prime minister in the history of the Italian Republic.
He was a defendant in more than 20 lawsuits, was convicted of tax fraud and was consequently disbarred as a senator. As soon as he was able to run for office again, in 2019, he was re-elected. Only a few months ago he ran for president of Italy and was very disappointed that he did not win.
He often joked that if he could, he would have run for pope. But he didn’t have the qualifications. He first entered politics at the age of 58 with a now-famous video proclaiming, “Italy is the country I love.” He had made a company great, he claimed, and promised to do the same for the country.
Over the next two decades, he transformed the history of Italy, and not just Italy. In the thirty years leading up to his entry into politics, Berlusconi changed TV, changed films, changed football and the rules of business itself. It all started with a small local TV station. With the help of the left, especially the Socialist Party, he had a law written just for him to allow him to compete with public, state television.
That was the beginning, in the late 1970s, of Italian-style commercial TV. It was game shows and half-naked women. It created a collective culture, a shared reference, that became the measure of all things. A culture of performance, of entertainment. Above all, of temptation. He wrote the script.
In 1986 Berlusconi bought AC Milan. Having a top class football team and leading it to huge success (AC Milan won the European Cup in 1990) made Berlusconi hugely popular. Running a commercial TV network, then with Medusa, a movie production company, gave him the opportunity to create a world of images.
It has even become part of the language. There is an adjective: Berlusconism. A rare honor.
He was always very likeable, he loved to sing Neapolitan songs and tell jokes – he had started his career as an entertainer on cruise ships – and he loved his wives. He showered them with money and honors in exchange for favours. He also brought them into politics and generated a template that is still in use today. Many of them were very young, some were the subject of scandals, a few of criminal trials.
He was a primal Italian, a stereotype and the dream of every ordinary Italian who wanted to become great. A great Italian songwriter, Giorgio Gaber, used to say: “I’m not afraid of Berlusconi per se, I’m afraid of Berlusconi in myself.” He was a man who spoke not to the spirit, but to the gut. He was accused, and in some cases convicted, of crimes that touch the very core of our people: not paying taxes, making deals with criminals to get along, bribing the powerful, buying with money what normally cannot be bought, including people .
They called him “the professor.” He had a degree in corporate law. He started by founding an advertising agency. He had received the honor of Knight of the Republic, which he had to return. He was unscrupulous, visionary, committed many misdeeds and certainly many serious crimes. He made a lot of money and was the misfortune of as much or more.
And of course he made a fortune for himself. He understood where the world was going before almost anyone else did, and turned that vision into profit. He made the world the way he wanted it.
Everyone was dealing with him, everyone was trying to take him out. He had an obsession with physical health, with appearance: generations of doctors took care of his preservation. Some guaranteed he would live to be 120. In that attempt, he underwent painful procedures.
His fable ended as it began: with a video. With his first, in the mid-1990s, he had all his hair and said he would make his country great. His country believed him. In his last one, made a few weeks ago, the hair that had been lost in the meantime had been implanted again. He said, I’m still here, I’m still your leader, you won’t have anyone but me.
But he was very sick, visible in the end. It was cruel to have him make what many people called a funeral video. It was, many people said, those rapacious women, those women who had always seduced him, him the Great Tempter, who finally chose him.
He had one last marriage last year, but it was only an appearance: a ceremony without legal value. His five legitimate children, who feared an attack on his estate, took care of that. But, as with Logan Roy, aptitude and drive, hunger, for success is not something you can inherit. His unscrupulousness, his ability to stay in the saddle no matter what. His cynicism, his insight. Berlusconi is dead and all of us, friends and foes, relatives and strangers, have been orphaned.
There will be a TV series, not so soon but definitely soon. a Succession that will tell about the man who visited Putin at his dacha and dined with Trump. The man who invited political opponents and TV participants to his villa and offered them more money if they came to him. Not everyone went with him, but some did.
There will be a state funeral at Milan Cathedral, in his city. The old president of Italy, the one he wanted to be but wasn’t, will pay tribute to him. It’s the end of a long era. The end of a seemingly endless TV series with no sequel. It ends here, to the sadness and relief of many. There will be another era, another script, yet to be written. This one is done. Berlusconi is dead.