Carlo Bernasconi, president of Rome-based mini major Medusa Film, died suddenly Thursday night in Milan. Aged 57, he was known to have been suffering from heart problems for some time.

Bernasconi was one of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi's closest collaborators, first working with him in the construction industry in the 1970s, before joining him when he created private broadcaster Mediaset twenty years ago. He was appointed president of Medusa Film in 1995, when Fininvest first launched its production and distribution outfit.

Over the last 18 months, Medusa has risen to become Italy's number one local distributor, with a market share of around 20%. Since last Christmas, the company has had a string of local and US hits, including Gabriele Muccino's The Last Kiss, Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo's comedy Ask Me If I'm Happy, Ferzan Ozpetek's Ignorant Fairies and Mel Gibson-starrer What Women Want.

Fedele Confalonieri, the president of Mediaset, said: "We are all deeply saddened. He was one of our greatest founding managers. The company owes so much to him."