Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, famed for operas, films and television, has died in Rome at the age of 96.
Zeffirelli’s son Luciano said his father died at home at noon on Saturday. “He had suffered for a while, but he left in a peaceful way,” he said.
Zeffirelli delighted audiences around the world with his romantic vision and often extravagant productions, most famously captured in his cinematic rendering of Romeo and Juliet and the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth.
While Zeffirelli was most popularly known for his films, his name was also inextricably linked to the theatre and opera.
From his illegitimate birth on the outskirts of Florence on Feb. 12, 1923, Zeffirelli rose to be one of Italy’s most prolific directors, working with such opera greats as Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and his beloved Maria Callas, as well as Hollywood stars including Elizabeth Taylor, Mel Gibson, Cher and Judi Dench.
He was one of the few Italian directors close to the Vatican, and the church turned to Zeffirelli’s theatrical touch for live telecasts of the 1978 papal installation and the 1983 Holy Year opening ceremonies in St. Peter’s Basilica. Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi also tapped him to direct a few high-profile events.
But Zeffirelli was best known outside Italy for his colourful, softly-focused romantic films. His 1978 “Romeo and Juliet” brought Shakespeare”s story to a new and appreciative generation, and his “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” told the life of St. Francis in parables involving modern and 13th-century youth.