Berlusconi was born in Milan in 1936, where he was raised in a middle-class family.

He studied law at the Università Statale in Milan, graduating (with honours) in 1961, with a thesis on the legal aspects of advertising.

Berlusconi's business career began in construction. In the 1970s (1970-1979), he built Milano Due (Italian for "Milan Two"), a development of 4,000 residential apartments east of Milan.

Berlusconi first entered the media world in 1973, by setting up a small cable television company, TeleMilano, to service units built on his Segrate properties. It began transmitting in September the following year. TeleMilano was the first Italian private television channel, and later evolved into Canale 5, the first national private TV station.

In 1978, Berlusconi founded his first media group, Fininvest, and joined the Propaganda Due masonic lodge.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who purchased the club in 1986, is Milan's longest-serving president (23 years, due to a two-year vacancy between 2004 and 2006).

Berlusconi rapidly rose to the forefront of Italian politics in January 1994. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time and appointed as Prime Minister following the 1994 parliamentary elections, when Forza Italia gained a relative majority a mere three months after having been launched.

In 2001, Berlusconi ran again, as leader of the right-wing coalition House of Freedoms (Italian: La Casa delle Libertà), which included the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats, the Lega Nord, the National Alliance and other parties. Berlusconi's success in the May 2001 general election led to him becoming Prime Minister once more, with the coalition receiving 49.6% of the vote for the Chamber of Deputies and 42.5% for the Senate.

In the 2005 regional elections (3 April/4 April 2005), centre-left candidates the for regional presidencies won in 12 out of 14 regions where control of local governments and presidencies were at stake. Berlusconi's coalition held only two of the regions (Lombardy and Veneto) up for re-election. Three parties, Union of Christian and Centre Democrats, National Alliance and New Italian Socialist Party, threatened to withdraw from the Berlusconi government.

Berlusconi after some hesitation, then presented to the President of the Republic a request for the dissolution of his government on 20 April 2005.

On 23 April, he formed a new government with the same allies, reshuffling ministers and amending the government programme.

Operating under a new electoral law written unilaterally by the governing parties with strong criticism from the parliamentary opposition, the April 2006 general election was held. The results of this election handed Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition, known as The Union, (Berlusconi's opposition) a very thin majority: 49.8% against 49.7% for the centre-right coalition House of Freedoms in the Lower House, and a two-senator lead in the Senate (158 senators for The Union and 156 for the House of Freedoms).

On 18 November 2007, after claiming the collection of more than 7 million signatures demanding that the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano call a fresh election, Berlusconi announced from the running board of a car in a crowded Piazza San Babila in Milan that Forza Italia would soon merge or transform into The People of Freedom party, also known as the PdL (Il Popolo della Libertà). Berlusconi also stated that this new political movement could include the participation of other parties.

On 12 November 2011, after a final meeting with his cabinet, Berlusconi met Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at the Palazzo del Quirinale to tend his resignation.

In June 2013, Berlusconi announced the refoundation of his first party Forza Italia. On 18 September the new party was launched and officially founded on 16 November.

On 13 April 2017, Berlusconi sold A.C. Milan to Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux for a total of €830 million after a 31-year reign.