News / Europe

Self-Made Berlusconi: Power, Pizzaz and Faux-Pas

Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi (C) speaks with Justice Minister Roberto Maroni (R) and League North Party leader Umberto Bossi during a finance vote at the parliament in Rome, November 8, 2011
Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi (C) speaks with Justice Minister Roberto Maroni (R) and League North Party leader Umberto Bossi during a finance vote at the parliament in Rome, November 8, 2011

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is no stranger to the spotlight.

The self-made media mogul has been elected prime minister three times, recently telling political supporters Italy had "no alternative" to his leadership, though he also said being prime minister was a "burden that I personally would be glad to be rid of."

Through it all, the 75-year-old Berlusconi has constantly stayed in the headlines both for his triumphs and his gaffes, holding onto power despite ongoing sex scandals, accusations of fraud and tax evasion and declining popularity.

The man destined to become one of Italy's richest men was born in Milan, Italy on September 29, 1936. He turned to the spotlight early on, earning money by singing in nightclubs and on cruise ships to pay for his education.

After graduating from law school in 1961, Berlusconi entered the construction business. Roughly 10 years later, he founded a cable television station called Telemilano. The station became the start of a vast media empire called Mediaset.  

Mediaset is now part of Berlusconi's Fininvest holding company, which includes several television networks, newspapers, Italy's largest publisher and the football club A.C. Milan.

Berlusconi decided to enter politics and, in 1994, founded the conservative Forza Italia party, ran for Prime Minister and won, forming a coalition with the right-wing National Alliance and Northern League.

Berlusconi's first go-around as prime minister ended quickly - his government collapsed after just seven months, after he was indicted on charges of tax fraud.  

Berlusconi was eventually convicted on those charges but they were later overturned and he ran again in 1996, losing out to the left-leaning Romano Prodi.

Despite the defeat at the polls, Berlusconi refused to give up and was elected prime minister for a second time in 2001. He remained prime minister until 2006, becoming Italy's longest serving prime minister since World War II.

A center-left coalition led by Romano Prodi defeated Mr. Berlusconi in 2006, but Berlusconi was reelected in 2008, following Prodi's resignation.

Throughout his three tenures as prime minister, Berlusconi has been followed by controversy and headlines.

Shortly after his 2006 defeat, he made news by passing out at the podium during a political rally. He was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and later flew to the United States for surgery to implant a pacemaker.

Silvio Berlusconi's reputation for partying with women has also grown since his 2008 election.

In May 2009, his second wife announced she was getting a divorce after he had been photographed at a birthday party for Noemi Letizia, an 18-year-old aspiring model. Berlusconi denied any charges of wrongdoing.

In July, some Italian news organizations said they had audio recordings of Berlusconi talking to an escort, Patrizia D'Addario, who said she was one of several women paid to attend parties at Berlusconi's residence in Rome.

Berlusconi denied the charges but, in his first remarks after the tapes were released, told the public he was "no saint."

Most recently, Berlusconi is awaiting trial for allegedly paying to have sex with underage girls, including a 17-year-old nightclub dancer known as "Ruby." He has denied the accusation.

A November 2010 file photo of a Moroccan girl nicknamed Ruby, who allegedly received payment from PM Berlusconi in return for sex, at a party in a Genoa disco
A November 2010 file photo of a Moroccan girl nicknamed Ruby, who allegedly received payment from PM Berlusconi in return for sex, at a party in a Genoa disco

Ruby, whose real name is Karima El Mahroug, denied the two had sex, though she admitted accepting $9,000 to attend a party at the prime minister's home.  

The 75-year-old has also become known for his political gaffes.

Shortly after U.S. President Barack Obama was elected in November 2008, the Italian leader said Obama, who is African American, had a "good tan." And in April 2009, he raised eyebrows during a gathering of world leaders in Germany, after he missed a group photo while talking on his mobile phone.

Earlier that week, Berlusconi agitated Britain's Queen Elizabeth at the G-20 summit in London by loudly calling out to U.S. President Obama.

Berlusconi estimates he has made about 2,500 court appearances during the past two decades, but despite the controversies and a plunging approval ratings - one recent poll estimated his support at 24 percent - he continues to hold onto power, dismissing ongoing calls for his resignation.

The U.S. magazine Forbes ranks Mr. Berlusconi 21st on its list of the world's most powerful people. It ranks him as 118 on its list of the world's richest people with an estimated net worth of $6.2 billion, as of November 2011.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs