The news has just broken in the last half hour of Berlusconi collapsing while giving a speech to his youth movement. The video could not be more dramatic, as he slumps on the rostrum and his bodyguards try to lift him away shouting 'Let go' as he clutches to the podium as if his life depended on it.
Romano Prodi has wished the man they call the cavaliere a speedy recovery, which is perhaps a graciousness beyond the call of duty in the usual mud-garden of Italian politics. Presumably, Berlusconi will recover shortly -- his spokesman promises he'll be back by 2nd December (a long convalescence if it is just, as is claimed, a case of being overcome by heat and emotion).
But the immediate thought is that this is a politician who has always had the whiff of Dorian Gray about him. There's no silver hair on Silvio but he is 70 and older than his rival, Prodi, though he looks a decade younger. He has built his reputation on being the anti-politician's politician, the man who stood outside the murky cabal of aged, male Christian Democrats who dominated Italian politics before the Nineties and whose henchmen have their role to play in the engrossing film Romanzo Criminale (go see, not least for its implicit criticism of Berlusconi replacing a one-party regime with, effectively, a no-party state). The cavaliere's permatan may stay, but his aura of youthfulness has collapsed. No doubt, he will survive -- but survive politically?