The Sicilian Mafia boss Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina died after battling cancer Friday in the prisoners’ wing of a hospital in Parma in northern Italy. The mobster had  turned 87 a day earlier.

The ‘boss of bosses’ Toto Riina was serving 26 life sentences. He was the mastermind of a strategy to assassinate Italian prosecutors and law enforcement officers who were trying to bring down the Cosa Nostra group.

Toto Riina was born on Nov. 16, 1930, and raised in a poverty stricken countryside house in Corleone, Italy. In 1943, his family had found an unexploded American bomb during the World War II. His father Giovanni tried to extract gunpowder from the bomb in order to sell the powder to hunters. However, while doing so, the bomb exploded and killed Riina's father and his seven-year-old brother, Francesco. After his father's sudden death, Riina became the effective male head of the family. He joined the local mafia clan at an early age of 19 by committing a murder on their behalf. The following year he killed a man during an argument for which he also served six years in prison.

According to various reports, Riina was nicknamed as ‘The Beast’ because of his cruelty. After he seized control of the Cosa Nostra crime group in the 1970s, he led a reign of terror for decades. He had ordered the murder of a 13-year old boy who was kidnapped in an attempt to stop his father from revealing mafia secrets. The boy was strangled and his body was dissolved in acid. When a fellow Mafiosi had turned to speak against him, Riina ordered for the murder of the mafiosi’s 11 relatives.  Riina’s associates carried out a series of bombings in Rome, Milan, and Florence in 1993 in which 10 people had died.

According to the Sun, the most high-profile murders he ordered were those of anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992. In 1993, Riina was captured when a rival informed police about Riina masterminding a strategy to assassinate Italian prosecutors.

Riino started off as a foot soldier to boss Luciano Leggio before rising up through the ranks, going on the run in 1969. He first continued to lead the Corleone clan and later the entire mafia from his hiding place. He eluded the efforts of the police to trap him for almost a quarter of a century, without ever leaving Sicily, Italy, reported the Guardian.

Riina had been serving 26 life sentences and was thought to have ordered more than 150 murders. He had been in a medically induced coma after his health deteriorated since the time he got operated for cancer twice. 

In July, the ageing notorious gangster had requested to be released from prison on the grounds of serious illness. However, his plea was rejected by a court which ruled that the care he would receive behind the bars was as good as he would get outside.

His family was given permission by Italy's health ministry Thursday for a rare visit to bid him goodbye.