Silvio Berlusconi dominated Italy for 17 years with a unique mix of political talent and brazen behaviour but left office brought low by the power of bond markets with the jeers of the Roman crowd ringing in his ears.

A born showman with a self-declared but real talent for making himself liked, the 75-year-old media magnate appeared embittered and isolated as he was driven to the residence of President Giorgio Napolitano to resign formally Saturday.

In scenes reminiscent of the fate of his shamed predecessor Bettino Craxi as he left a Roman hotel in 1993, Berlusconi departed the political scene with angry crowds hurling insults at his limousine.

After handing in his resignation, Berlusconi left the Quirinale Palace by a side entrance as thousands of demonstrators chanted Clown! Clown! the insult traditionally hurled at disgraced Italian politicians.

The departure of Italy's longest serving prime minister put a seal on weeks of turmoil on financial markets that has left Italy dependent on help from the European Central Bank to stem a crisis that threatens the entire euro zone.

It also brought down the curtain on a remarkable political career that stretched from the Bribesville corruption affair that destroyed the old political order in the 1990s to a fresh era of scandal.

Bolstered by unrivalled communication skills and a dominance of Italian media, Berlusconi had for years seemed immune to a series of controversies that would have destroyed a politician in most other parts of the world.

They included the lurid Rubygate scandal in which he was charged with having sex with an under-age prostitute, and a wave of salacious revelations from police wiretaps about alleged orgies at his luxurious Milan villa.

He also faces two ongoing fraud court cases, the latest in more than 30 prosecutions by magistrates he accuses of being communists bent on perverting democracy.

The perma-tanned media tycoon, once a cruise ship crooner, was always unrepentant about a notoriously off-colour sense of humour and a series of diplomatic gaffes which have led many foreign leaders to try to avoid being photographed near him.


Berlusconi, one of Italy's richest men, had been in political decline for most of this year, his former mastery undermined by glaring misjudgments in local elections and three referendums, as well as the loss of a key alliance.

Often derided abroad for his facelifts, hair transplants, make-up and gaffes, Berlusconi until recently commanded a large following particularly among middle-class women, pensioners and the self-employed, striking a chord with his warnings about the dangers of left-wing extremists.

But with lurid details from assorted sex and corruption scandals filling newspapers for months and bitter government infighting poisoning the atmosphere around him, Berlusconi's touch increasingly deserted him.

He had seemed to have a good chance of hanging on for scheduled elections in 2013, until markets panicked by the Greek crisis turned on Italy, focussing on the inability of Berlusconi's squabbling government to pass meaningful reforms.

Up to the last, Berlusconi appeared to underestimate the gravity of the crisis, declaring this month that restaurants are full, you have trouble booking seats on planes as the economic pain mounted for millions of ordinary Italians.

As markets focussed on Italy's huge public debt and stagnant economy, Italy's government bonds came under huge pressure and the European Central Bank had to move in August to buy bonds on the market to stop the crisis spreading.

In return it demanded tough economic reforms, effectively dictating government policy and destroying Berlusconi's boasts that he had shielded Italy from the euro zone debt crisis.

With his coalition crumbling around him and borrowing costs soaring out of control, Berlusconi finally agreed to resign after losing a crucial vote in parliament.

But in an sign of how much the collapse of market confidence was focussed on him individually, bond yields soared even higher the day after the announcement because of market uncertainty about whether he would really go.

Napolitano had to publicly assure markets the flamboyant billionaire would go and accelerated the political transition.


Berlusconi's final demise was a far cry from 2008 when a landslide victory gave the media tycoon his strongest electoral mandate. He had been prime minister for longer than any postwar leader, painting himself as the only choice for the dominant conservative voting bloc and a bastion against communism.

But he did not have long to savour his third election triumph. In 2009 his estranged wife Veronica denounced his sex life and accused him of consorting with under-age women, finally sowing doubts in the minds of voters who had hitherto been charmed by his image as a self-made macho Latin male.

In addition, Berlusconi has persistently shown himself to be better at promises than action, failing to implement pledges in 2008 to use his business acumen to liberalise a notoriously inflexible and protected economy.

As owner of Italy's main private television channels and top-flight soccer team AC Milan after making a fortune in a Milan construction boom, he typified an Italian dream, with millions won over by his rags-to-riches story and optimism.

Berlusconi created his own party almost overnight in 1994 to fill the void on the right caused by the destruction of the long-dominant Christian Democrats by a corruption scandal.

His media empire Mediaset has a near-duopoly in television with state-run RAI over which, as premier, he had ultimate control. This gave him a much-criticised stranglehold on Italian media while he was accused of lowering cultural values with variety shows dominated by scantily clad starlets.

Critics also say he used his political and media power to fend off many prosecutions.

In the last year the Catholic Church has distanced itself from him, following reports of starlets and prostitutes dancing half-naked for him in return for cash and gifts. He boasted in one phone call of having sex with eight women in one night.

Berlusconi has always maintained the dinners he hosted were jovial affairs that involved little more than food, jokes and song. His only concession has been to say he is no saint and loves beautiful women.

(Writing by James Mackenzie and Barry Moody; Editing by Andrew Heavens)