Legendary Italian director Franco Zeffirelli dies at 96

Spokesman says he'd been debilitated by pnuemonia

By Rob Picheta, CNN
Getty Images

Italian film director and parade grand marshal Franco Zeffirelli waves to the crowd during the Columbus Day Parade October 14, 2002, in New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images).

(CNN) - Legendary Italian theater, opera and film director Franco Zeffirelli died on Saturday at the age of 96, a spokeswoman for his foundation in Rome told CNN.

Zeffirelli's 1968 adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet" earned him an Oscar nomination, while his film "The Taming of the Shrew," made the previous year and starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, endures one of the 20th century's most celebrated retellings of a Shakespearean comedy.

His work in opera was equally esteemed; Zeffirelli's operatic films "La Traviata" and "Otello" are regarded as classics of the genre, and the director staged shows in many of the world's most prestigious opera houses during a lengthy and prolific career.

The director had been debilitated by pnuemonia he contracted around two weeks ago and had failed to recover, the spokeswoman, Loretta Formicone, said.

"Jesus of Nazareth," a pioneering British television miniseries, further cemented his status as a leading artistic figure of recent decades, and Zeffirelli continued to be a prominent figure in Italy as a senator in Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.

"Ciao Maestro," a message on the website for his Franco Zeffirelli Foundation read, after local media reported his death.

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