Former mafia chief Bernardo Provenzano tried to kill himself in a prison cell where he was found with a plastic bag over his head, ANSA news agency on Thursday quoted prison officials as saying.

A guard at the prison of the northern city of Parma found Provenzano, who is 79 and ill, on his cell bed on Wednesday night.

His life was not threatened.

Provenzano and 50 other prisoners are being held at the prison's maximum-security wing.

The former mafia kingpin in Corleone - the Sicilian hilltop town made famous by “The Godfather” trilogy - is serving several life sentences and is said to be under constant observation.

His lawyers were wondering how he managed to get hold of a plastic bag under these circumstances.

Provenzano has undergone cancer treatment and is suffering from Parkinson's disease.

On Friday a Parma court is to hold a hearing in a trial in which Provenzano is questioned in a homicide case.

He was arrested in April 2006 after 43 years on the run. - Sapa-AFP