By Dom Serafini

The first time I met Silvio Berlusconi was at his Canale 5 MIPTV stand in Cannes in 1979. I was working for Saul Paul’s TV/Radio Age and Berlusconi wanted to sue me for an article he deemed unfair. He quickly changed his mind and instead invited me to his company’s  headquarters in Via Rovani, Milan. In his office, he offered to put me in touch with his bankers to prove that his business, at that time mostly in real estate, was solid.

After that, I would visit him at his office every month and, when he was on vacation in Portofino, he’d give me his telephone number so that together we could create campaigns and ads for Canale 5. Berlusconi liked me, despite considering me “unreliable.” He even hired some of our publication’s contributors. He supported the launch of VideoAge in 1981 with $9,000 worth of ads. To me he was “Il Cavaliere” (similar to the “sir” title), to him I was “Mr. Serafini.”

Berlusconi died today in Milan at age 87 due to chronic leukemia. He became a billionaire thanks to his media empire after opening up Europe to private television stations. When he founded the Forza Italia political party in 1994, I lost contact with him. Subsequently, he became Italy’s Prime Minister (four times), whose “antics” seemed replicated in Donald Trump’s presidential stint. While in politics, Berlusconi was enmeshed in numerous scandals and suffered house arrest. Reportedly, he also became Vladimir Putin’s partner in some business ventures in Russia.

Today, the media empire he created is run by his son Pier Silvio, CEO of Mediaset, and his daughter Marina, chairman of Mondadori, the company’s publishing division. Berlusconi leaves behind three more children — Barbara, Eleonora, and Luigi — who all hold stakes in the Fininvest holding company.

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