Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, known for ‘Romeo and Juliet’, dies at 96

Franco Zeffirelli, seen in New York, in this Oct. 31, 1974 file photo. (Photo: Jerry Mosey, AP)

ROME (AP) — Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, who delighted audiences around the world with his romantic vision and often extravagant productions, most famously captured in his cinematic “Romeo and Juliet,” has died in Rome at 96.

While Zeffirelli was most popularly known for his films, his name was also inextricably linked to the theater and opera. Showing great flexibility, he produced classics for the world’s most famous opera houses, from Milan’s venerable La Scala to the Metropolitan in New York, and plays for London and Italian stages.

Zeffirelli’s son Luciano said his father died at home on Saturday.

“He had suffered for a while, but he left in a peaceful way,” he said.

Zeffirelli made it his mission to make culture accessible to the masses, often seeking inspiration in Shakespeare and other literary greats for his films, and producing operas aimed at TV audiences.

Claiming no favorites, Zeffirelli once likened himself to a sultan with a harem of three: film, theater 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.

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