Bernardo Provenzano, center, is escorted by police in Palermo in 2006. (Luca Bruno/AP)

Bernardo Provenzano, the convicted Cosa Nostra “boss of bosses” who reputedly led the Mafia’s powerful Corleone clan, died July 13, 10 years after his capture in Sicily following decades of hiding in the countryside, a lawyer said. He was 83.

Italian media reported that he had bladder cancer and died at a hospital in Milan. The lawyer, Rosalba Di Gregorio, had cited his increasing physical frailty and mental infirmity in several unsuccessful attempts to persuade anti-Mafia prosecutors to ease prison conditions intended to prevent mobsters from wielding power while behind bars.

Mr. Provenzano, the reputed “capo dei capi,” or boss of bosses, was arrested in 2006 after 43 years as a fugitive.

He had been convicted in absentia of more than a dozen murders, as well as being part of the Mafia leadership that ordered bombings in 1992 that killed Sicily’s top two anti-Mafia investigators, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Mr. Provenzano was also convicted of taking part in plotting Mafia bombings in 1993 in Rome, Milan and Florence, including one attack near the Uffizi art gallery.

Bernardo Provenzano in 1963. (AP)

Mr. Provenzano was born Jan. 31, 1933, in Corleone, the hilltop Sicilian town that inspired the name of the fictional crime family in Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather.” In his youth, he received the nickname “The Tractor” for the determination he displayed in a mob career that began as a hit man.

He was believed to have taken over the leadership of the Sicilian crime syndicate after the 1993 arrest of another longtime fugitive boss, Salvatore “Toto” Riina.

Investigators say that, while in charge, Mr. Provenzano helped the Mafia dig deeper into the lucrative world of public works contracts in Sicily, turning the mob into more of a white-collar industry of illegal activity and lessening its dependence on traditional moneymakers such as drug trafficking and extortion.

He essentially thumbed his nose at authorities, who were trying to hunt down a man whose last photo, taken decades earlier, showed a confident-looking young man in a jacket and tie, his hair brushed back from a broad forehead.

The man who had for years been Italy’s No. 1 fugitive was betrayed not by an informer or a rival mobster, but by clean laundry. Police tracked a package of clothes to a farmhouse on the outskirts of Corleone.

They had watched the package leave his wife’s house in Corleone, then be delivered to a series of addresses until it was driven to the farmhouse. When someone put a hand through the door to take in the laundry, police swept in, nabbing Mr. Provenzano, who had been living with a shepherd who doubled as his housekeeper.

In his decades on the run, Mr. Provenzano had counted on Sicilians’ centuries-old mistrust of the state to help him, as he slept in islanders’ homes. His children were born in local hospitals. He sent the national public health-care system a bill for prostate treatment he had abroad under a false name.

A complete list of survivors was not reported.

Investigators said Mr. Provenzano gave his henchmen orders with written notes, not trusting phone conversations for fear of being monitored by police. The notes, found at the farmhouse along with a typewriter Mr. Provenzano was believed to have used to write them, later became the basis of the book “You Don’t Know” by Sicilian best-selling author Andrea Camilleri.

— Associated Press