The next year proved to be one of extremes for the veteran politician. He was praised for his handling of the devastating earthquake that struck the Italian town of L'Aquila in April 2009, and survived criticism after urging survivors to see their plight like "a weekend of camping."
But the following month, Berlusconi's second wife, Veronica Lario, filed for divorce -- alleging Berlusconi had an inappropriate relationship with an 18-year-old aspiring model whose birthday party he had attended. Berlusconi said she was the daughter of a friend and that he had done nothing wrong.
In December that year, a man with a history of mental illness hit Berlusconi in the face with a replica of Milan's cathedral at a campaign rally, breaking several of his teeth and fracturing his nose. Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that the irrepressible Berlusconi continued to shake hands with supporters for "a couple of minutes" after being hit.
With the country's economy reeling amid the financial crisis, pressure on Berlusconi grew. Gianfranco Fini -- a former party ally -- lashed out, accusing him of a lack of attention to the economy and structural reforms that Italy needs. The prime minister survived three votes of confidence in Parliament during 2010 and 2011, winning one by just three votes, but his authority continued to ebb.
Economists said Berlusconi commanded neither sufficient political authority to push through spending cuts nor the moral high ground to squeeze more taxes out of Italians while he faced trial on various charges. Other European leaders criticized him for failing to implement economic reform with sufficient urgency.
Bunga bunga charges
Meanwhile, Berlusconi faced a serious personal challenge with charges of sex with an underage nightclub dancer and abuse of power.
Berlusconi had sex 13 times with underage dancer Karima el Mahroug, nicknamed "Ruby the heart-stealer," say prosecutors who allege the prime minister abused his position when he intervened in May 2010 to get her released from the jail where she was being held on charges of theft. El Mahroug has said she never had sex with Berlusconi and that she lied to him about her age, telling him she was 24.
In September 2011, prosecutors submitted transcripts of approximately 100,000 pages of wiretaps -- from 2008 and 2009 -- to a court in Bari. The prosecutors have accused eight people of paying young women to attend so-called "bunga bunga" parties at Berlusconi's home.
Berlusconi denied the charges and accused prosecutors of conspiring against him in a left-wing plot. "Communism never changes in Italy. There are still people who use the penal code as a weapon in their ideological battles," he said earlier this year.
But, according to the transcripts of the calls, Berlusconi made several controversial remarks, vowing at one point to leave Italy, which he described as a "s****y country" that "sickened" him. When confronted with these remarks, Berlusconi laughed off this and other gaffes.