Renowned Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, famous for making a film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and staging extravagant opera productions, died at the age of 96.

He died in his house in Rome, his son Luciano said, adding that he had "suffered for a while, but he had gone peacefully".

Zeffirelli was the last of a generation of Italian movie giants who grew up after the Second World War, including Federico
Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica.

The director has won fans around the world with his romantic vision and lavish productions, with his style best known for his filmic portrayal of Shakespeare's tragedy.

Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti jokes with Italian director Franco Zeffirell
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Zeffirelli worked with a number of stars, including Luciano Pavarotti

His 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet was a hit with the critics and performed well at the box office. It also earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Director. A second nomination took place in 1982 for his work as Art Director for La Traviata.

Zeffirelli was also known for the lavish television series Jesus of Nazareth, but his name was inextricably linked to the theater and the opera.

He produced classics for the world's most famous opera houses and plays for London and Italian stages.

He compared himself once with a three-headed sultan: film, theater and opera.

"I'm not a film director, I'm a director who uses different tools to express his dreams and stories – to make people dream," Zeffirelli told the Associated Press in an interview in 2006.

Zeffirelli was one of Italy's most prolific directors and worked with artists such as Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and his beloved Maria Callas on stage.

He also worked with some of Hollywood's biggest stars.

He staged Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in The Taming Of The Shrew's adaptation of 1967 and returned to Shakespeare in 1990 with Hamlet. Mel Gibson played the title role.

In one of Zeffirelli's last films, Tea With Mussolini (1999), he worked with Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, and Cher.

He was one of the few Italian directors close to the Vatican.

The church turned to Zeffirelli for help with the papal installation of 1978 and the opening ceremonies of the Holy Year 1983 in St. Peter's Basilica.

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also invited him to lead a series of high-profile events.