Maurizio "Zanza" Zanfanti, who has died aged 62 while in flagrante, was the most famous Latin lover of the package holiday boom in Italy, of which the epicentre was his home town Rimini.

In his prime, women queued up to be seduced by him and according to legend he slept with thousands of them.

He died of a heart attack at around two in the morning in his Mitsubishi Pajero 4x4, parked in a small peach grove owned by his family, seconds after making love with a 25-year-old Romanian woman, who raised the alarm.

Maurizio Zanfanti was born on October 20 1955 into a family of poor peasant farmers who lived near Rimini on the Adriatic coast. Italy was still a largely agricultural country, devastated by the Fascist period and the Second World War but on the brink of the 1960s economic miracle which would see its GDP briefly overtake Britain's.

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Young Maurizio left school at 16 with no qualifications and in 1972 became a buttadentro (thrower-in, literally) at a notorious discotheque called Blow Up. His job was to search for women on the beach and in bars and entice them with free tickets and smooth talk to go with him to Blow Up.

The work paid him a pittance, but gave him carte blanche to accost young women at will and engage them in conversation.

His rise to fame as a seaside end-of-the-pier version of Casanova was as rapid as the rise to fame of Rimini as a citadel of hedonism.

So effective was he that he quickly earned the nickname "Zanza", short for zanzara – the Italian word for mosquito.

In those years, mass tourism transformed the Adriatic coast into one long, endless line of brutally ugly hotels, apartment blocks, bars, restaurants and discotheques, and the sandy shore in front into a forest of beach umbrellas.

Federico Fellini was also born in Rimini and his Oscar-winning 1973 masterpiece Amarcord ("I remember" in local dialect) is about a year in the life of this small coastal town before mass tourism stole its soul. He wrote in a 1976 memoir: "I don't like going back to Rimini."

Nevertheless, few Italians cared enough to stop the desecration, since most cared more about the money it brought to their economy. Least of all the young Zanfanti. For him, this desecration was not just a means of making a living: it was paradise on earth.

Such was his status as a serial seducer of the tourists from northern Europe who flocked to the Adriatic in the 1970s and 1980s in search of sun, sea and sex that he was often front-page news in Germany and Scandinavia.

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In 1984 the German tabloid Bild dedicated two pages to him, calling him the "Sex Bomber Der Nation". A pop song he and staff at Blow Up made reached No 2 in the Swedish charts.

Short and swarthy, he had dense caveman-style hair which he dyed golden brown. He wore his shirts unbuttoned to the waist or, better still, just a skimpy leather waistcoat, to display to full advantage his chunky gold chains, tanned torso and hairy chest. He invariably wore platform heels and had a fondness for tight leather trousers.

But he was blessed with innate charm and it was this – they say – that bowled over the women. A Norwegian, Mette Homburg, now 50, told the Corriere della Sera after his death that when she met him at Blow Up in 1984 his first words to her were "Ciao, bella".

"But they were enough," she explained, "to make me fall in love with him, and I was so in love. He had the air of being a macho man but he was so nice, and so funny." For three years, Mette returned each summer to Rimini just for Zanza, and they remained friends until his death. "I knew he had loads of women, but it didn't matter."

Many other old flames kept in touch down the years and some even organised group trips decades later to see him in Rimini for reunion parties.

In a typical three-month summer season, he used to say, his average tally was 200 women, roughly two a day, rising to four a day in the infernal heat of August. He knew how many there were because he recorded each one, with brief details, in notebooks which rapidly filled up and had to be replaced. But he always refused to reveal the grand total, which is reckoned to be 6,000.

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"They were nearly all foreign women," he said. "The Italians had to make do with my brother."

After his death, Walter Lanzetti, who owned the now long gone Blow Up discotheque, told the Bologna-based daily Il Resto del Carlino that he took him on as a buttadentro all those years ago, and then as artistic director, because he knew a bit of Swedish, which no one else did, and he always had a smile on his face.

And what drove his passion to seduce women – insisted Signor Lanzetti, however unlikely it may seem – was an altruistic sense of duty. "He didn't do it for fame, or to be top of the cucadores (Latin lover) league tables which existed in those days," Lanzetti said, "He just wanted to make women happy. Zanza was a romantic."

However, the arrival of Aids in the 1980s, combined with a growing awareness of feminism, began to curtail his activities. These developments coincided with the decline of the Italian Adriatic as the package holiday destination of choice for northern Europeans. "1988 was a lean summer," Zanza conceded. "Only 120 women."

When in 1993 Bild warned female readers to beware Italian philanderers brandishing forged medical certificates on the beach or in the disco to "prove" that they did not have HIV, Zanza was swift to leap to his own defence.

"Me, I keep my certificate signed and countersigned by the doctor in my wallet," he told la Repubblica. "But I've yet to meet a girl who has ever wanted to see it."

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In 2015, by now 60, Zanza announced his retirement in il Resto del Carlino, insisting that he had "done more for the promotion of tourism in Rimini than 100 travel agencies".

He never married but is thought to have fathered nine children dotted about Scandinavia and Germany.

Asked once if he had ever been in love, he replied: "I cannot allow myself to do it. I cannot allow myself to stop … Work is work."

His family's parish priest refused to allow his funeral in their local church, not because in canon law Zanza was a peccator manifestus ("notorious sinner"), but because the priest did not want – or so he said – a media scrum in his church.

Instead, the funeral took place, regardless of canon law, in the chapel at the cemetery in Rimini in which Zanza was afterwards buried – a stone's throw from Fellini's grave.

Hundreds of people, including the mayor, were present. Many said that Zanza deserved if not a street in his name, then at least a medal.

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Throughout his life as a tombeur de femmes Zanza lived on the first floor of the family farmhouse above his mother Teresa, who is 80 and still owns a small fishmonger's nearby, his brother Loris and sister Mara, neither of whom is married. They all survive him.

Though his mother was "not happy" (as he once put it) with the life he had led, he did his bit each day at the family fish shop and on their farm. After his death, she told the press: "He was a good boy, who always helped me."

Maurizio Zanfanti, born October 20 1955, died September 26 2018