Silvio Berlusconi, or Italy's arch seducer, as the British newspaper the Independent has called him, rose from vacuum cleaner salesman to media tycoon to political titan over the course of four decades, serving three separate terms as prime minister. He has also appeared in court more than 2,500 times by his own estimate, gone through two divorces, and been dogged by sex scandals involving "bunga bunga" parties full of scantily clad -- and allegedly underage -- women.
To his detractors, he is a walking catastrophe who has brought Italy nothing but humiliation. To his supporters, he is a charismatic center-right savior of the nation. But detractors and supporters alike both reckoned it was over for Berlusconi when he resigned as prime minister in 2011, after losing his parliamentary majority during and being forced out of office in the midst of an economic crisis. If this wasn't enough to finish him off, then surely his conviction for tax evasion in October 2012 was the final blow.
Now, only months later, Berlusconi is trailing his center-left opponent by just five to six percentage points in the country's general election on Feb. 24-25. If he wins, he will solidify his reputation as Italy's -- and, really, the world's -- ultimate political survivor. If he loses, we may very well be witnessing the last act in a larger-than-life career on the world stage -- chronicled in photos here.