Former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has died, according to the nation’s press service ANSA. He was 98.
The former president, who served from 2006 until 2015, was the first president in the country’s history to be reelected to the office. He was the longest-serving and longest-lived president in the history of the modern Italian Republic.
He was also the first official from the Italian Communist Party to visit the United States. In 1978, he arrived in the U.S. to deliver a series of lectures at Harvard and other leading institutions.
The Naples-born politician came to be known as “Re Giorgio” (“King George”) for providing stability amid the turbulence of Italian party politics and for ensuring a smooth transition of executive power.
Facing a deadlocked parliament in 2013, Napolitano reluctantly agreed to stay in office after his seven-year presidential term had expired. He stepped down in 2015.
Napolitano was seen by many as an “anti-Berlusconi” figure, with approval rates steadily around 80% across his long tenure. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who died in June, was elected three times and was regarded as a divisive figure.
Napolitano’s critics however called him an “interventionist,” pointing at the extremely active role he played in politics, while the Italian presidency has traditionally been a symbolic and non-executive office.
With over six decades of his life dedicated to politics, Napolitano contributed to Italian politics and government in many different roles, from being a leading figure in the Italian Communist Party to serving in the Italian and European Parliament. In 1992, he became the president of Parliament’s Chamber of Deputies and from 1996 to 1998 he was the interior minister.
In 2005, he was appointed Senator for Life by former President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.
He is survived by his wife Clio and his sons, Giulio and Giovanni.