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Berlusconi Seizes Italy’s Attention Even in Death

Not even death could keep Silvio Berlusconi from center stage.

The post-Berlusconi era was inevitable, but it arrived on Tuesday with a shock given the leader’s aura of plastic-parts immortality — and his own energetic insistence, well into his 80s, that he was as young as ever.

And Mr. Berlusconi, who loomed over Italian politics as prime minister and power broker for decades, still dominated the country a day after his death on Monday at 86. Mourners brought flowers to his palatial villa. His critics debated whether he had transformed Italy for good or ill. His most ardent admirers declared that he was foremost in their thoughts and prayers.

“He was a man who had great intuition, and the courage to follow those intuitions,” Deborah Bergamini, a lawmaker with Forza Italia, Mr. Berlusconi’s party, said in an interview on the national broadcaster RAI. “I think this was his greatest charisma.”

Although Mr. Berlusconi’s family decided to hold a strictly private gathering for relatives and friends on Tuesday, the former leader’s gravitational pull brought cameras of news channels and websites to the elegant iron gates surrounding his villa in Arcore, near Milan. Mr. Berlusconi was taken to the villa, where he had lived since the 1970s, just hours after his death at the San Raffaele hospital in his hometown, Milan.

Outside the gates, an improvised memorial of flowers, handwritten signs, and soccer team scarves and jerseys — A.C. Milan and A.C. Monza, the teams he owned formerly and at the time of his death — grew as the hours passed. Intermittent rain did not discourage his supporters from gathering along the road leading to the villa.

Television — an industry that Mr. Berlusconi had helped revolutionize through his media empire — broadcast countless hours recalling his life and death.

Specials on Mr. Berlusconi’s own channels supplanted regular programming. Afternoon talk shows discussed his oversized impact on Italian life and his political legacy, not always in flattering terms.

Recalling Mr. Berlusconi’s “limitless vitality,” Pier Luigi Bersani, the former leader of Italy’s main center-left party, said Tuesday that his former opponent “had given a new form to politics.”

“It may have been debatable, but there is no doubt that it was new,” he said in an interview on a major national news show.

Some anchors on the Mediaset television channels that Mr. Berlusconi owned wore black.

Details of Mr. Berlusconi’s state funeral, which will be held Wednesday afternoon, were doled out throughout the day alongside televised feeds in front of Milan’s Gothic cathedral, where the ceremony will be held. The authorities declared Wednesday a national day of mourning, with flags flying at half-staff from public buildings, though arguments brewed in some places where officials said they would not join in the grieving.

By law, former prime ministers can be given state funerals, but the decision to hold a day of national mourning was made by the government. It was a choice that some, like Rosy Bindi, a former minister and Democratic Party leader, said was “inopportune,” given what a “divisive person” Mr. Berlusconi had been.

Tomaso Montanari, the rector of the University for Foreigners of Siena, said in a letter to the university community that the institution would not join the national mourning for a man who may have made history, but “did it leaving the world and Italy much worse off than how he found it.” The decision was immediately censured by Mr. Berlusconi’s supporters, but an online petition supporting Mr. Montanari got more than 17,000 signatures in just a few hours.

Front-page headlines in national newspapers captured the wide variety of how Italians saw Mr. Berlusconi over the last three decades. La Gazzetta dello Sport called him the “Man of the Stars,” a reference to his long winning streak as the owner of A.C. Milan.

“The First Populist,” said the left-leaning La Repubblica, a nod to Mr. Berlusconi’s break with Italy’s traditional politics in the 1990s, as he built a foundation for his own electoral popularity.

“He had sought immortality in every gesture of life and especially in the cult of himself,” wrote Ezio Mauro, who as editor of the newspaper in the 1990s and 2000s regularly criticized Mr. Berlusconi. “Instead, Silvio Berlusconi also had to surrender.”

Corriere della Sera opted for a more solemn headline, “Italy without Berlusconi,” with one of its chief columnists, Massimo Gramellini, musing on the front page: “It is difficult to imagine a life without Silvio.”

Another columnist, Aldo Cazzullo, wrote that Mr. Berlusconi had “seduced a country,” possessing the ability of making “the majority of Italians identify with him.” Mr. Berlusconi, he said, “was enormously rich and he won the votes of the poor.”

Other newspapers devoted dozens of pages to Mr. Berlusconi’s life and legacy. The right-wing daily Il Giornale, until recently owned by the former leader’s brother, Paolo Berlusconi, filled the entire newspaper with articles and tributes written by family, friends and the show business personalities who owed their careers to Mr. Berlusconi and his television channels.

A banner on one network tower at Cologno Monzese, Mediaset’s headquarters, read “Ciao Papà” (Bye, Dad) and “Grazie Silvio” (Thanks, Silvio), and an enormous billboard on a nearby building read: “All of Mediaset embraces with love and infinite gratitude its founder Silvio Berlusconi.”

The homages extended beyond his hometown and the many Italians with a personal or professional investment in Mr. Berlusconi.

In Naples, where artisans craft modern day terra-cotta figures to populate traditional nativity scenes, one shop clustered figures of Mr. Berlusconi made over the years, adding a sign: “Ciao Silvio.”

Elisabetta Povoledo reported from Rome, and Gaia Pianigiani from Siena, Italy.

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