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Legendary Italian director Franco Zeffirelli dies at 96

Director Franco Zeffirelli in 1967 (Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)

ROME, Italy (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, whose prolific work in the second half of the 20th century established him as one of the country’s most cherished creative figures, had been debilitated by pnuemonia he contracted around two weeks ago and had failed to recover, Loretta Formicone said.

His 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 as one of the 20th century’s most celebrated retellings of a Shakespearean comedy.

Zeffirelli’s work in opera was equally esteemed; the 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 career.

“Jesus of Nazareth,” a pioneering British television miniseries, further cemented his status as a leading artistic figure of recent decades. His prominent role in Italy continued while he served 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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