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Romeo and Juliet director dies

Revered Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, famed for productions including his film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, has died.

Zeferelli's son Luciano said his 96-year-old father passed away at his home in Rome, adding he "had suffered for a while, but he left in a peaceful way".

The director won fans worldwide with his romantic vision and extravagant productions, with his style most famously captured in his cinematic rendering of Shakespeare's tragedy.

Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti jokes with Italian Director Franco Zeffirell
Image: Zeffirelli worked with a string of stars, including Luciano Pavarotti

His 1968 version was a hit with critics and performed well at the box office.

Zeffirelli was also known for the lavish TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, but his name was inextricably linked to the theatre and opera.

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He produced classics for the world's most famous opera houses and plays for London and Italian stages.

Zeffirelli made it his goal to make culture accessible to the masses, often looking for inspiration in Shakespeare and other literary giants for his films, as well as producing operas aimed at television audiences.

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He once likened himself to a sultan with a harem of three: film, theatre and opera.

"I am not a film director. I am a director who uses different instruments to express his dreams and his stories – to make people dream," Zeffirelli told the Associated Press in a 2006 interview.

Zeffirelli was one of Italy's most prolific directors, working with the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and his beloved Maria Callas, he also worked with some of Hollywood's biggest stars.

He directed Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1967 adaptation of The Taming Of The Shrew, returning to Shakespeare in 1990 with Hamlet. Mel Gibson played the title role.

One of Zeffirelli's last films, 1999's Tea With Mussolini, saw him work with Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith and Cher.

He was one of the few Italian directors who was close the Vatican.

The church turned to Zeffirelli for help with the 1978 papal installation and the 1983 Holy Year opening ceremonies in St Peter's Basilica.

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi also called on him to direct a number of high-profile events.

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