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'Romeo and Juliet' Director Franco Zeffirelli Dead at 96

'Romeo and Juliet' Director Franco Zeffirelli Dead at 96
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Franco Zeffirelli, the Italian director known for his film adaptations of Shakespeare, died Friday in Rome. He was 96.

He died following a long illness.

The mayor of Zeffirelli's hometown, Florence, wrote on social media, "Goodbye, dear Maestro, Florence will never forget you."

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Zeffirelli, a WWII veteran, worked extensively in theater and film before his directorial debut, helming "The Taming of the Shrew" (1967), starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

His next film, "Romeo and Juliet" (1968), became a sensation. It was one of the first adaptations to use actors — Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey — close to the star-crossed lovers' intended ages and is still one of the most beloved versions of the classic.

Among his other works, Zeffirelli directed the religious films "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" (1972) and "Jesus of Nazareth" (1977), an oft-rerun miniseries.

He enjoyed a popular success with "The Champ" (1979), but lost momentum with the bomb "Endless Love" (1981) and for many years staged and filmed operas to great acclaim.

Other films include "Hamlet" (1990), with Mel Gibson and Glenn Close; "Jane Eyre" (1996), with William Hurt, Anna Paquin and Charlotte Gainsbourg; and "Tea with Mussolini" (1999), with Cher, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Lily Tomlin.

His final feature-length work was "Callas Forever" (2002), starring French actress Fanny Ardant as Italian diva Maria Callas.

Zeffirelli is survived by his two adopted sons.

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