Franco Zeffirelli, Acclaimed 'Romeo & Juliet' Director, Dies at 96

Film director Franco Zeffirelli, who most famously captured viewers' hearts with his cinematic production of "Rome & Juliet," passed away at the age of 96.

As reported by the New York Times, Zeffirelli was the "unabashed emperor of extravagance in opera" and worked with stage actors such as Judi Dench and Elizabeth Taylor

Zeffirelli retired from the film industry in 2009, however, his last directorial project was "Zeffirelli's Inferno," a video short produced in 2017. 

Director Franco Zeffirelli and actress Fanny Ardant attend the 2008 American Academy McKim Award Ceremony. Photo: Getty Images.

Director Franco Zeffirelli and actress Fanny Ardant attend the 2008 American Academy McKim Award Ceremony. Photo: Getty Images.

His son, Luciano, confirmed that Zeffirelli passed away in Rome over the weekend. Luciana told the Associated Press: 

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

Zeffirelli worked with a number of directors and honed his craft before directing Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" in 1967.

 Mercedes T. Bass presents director Franco Zeffirelli with the 2008 American Academy McKim Award at Villa Aurelia. Photo: Getty Images.

Mercedes T. Bass presents director Franco Zeffirelli with the 2008 American Academy McKim Award at Villa Aurelia. Photo: Getty Images.

The film starred Elizabeth Taylor an Richard Burton in the lead roles. It was well received by both critics and Shakespearean purists. 

Zeffirelli soared to fame and cemented his reputation with his follow-up film, "Romeo & Juliet," in 1968. The film won two Oscars and received 15 nominations. 

Zeffirelli cast Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, two unknown teenagers, in the lead roles. It ultimately lead to film's popularity among teenagers. 

The acclaimed director came out as gay in 1996, although he preferred the term "homosexual," as "gay" sounded less elegant. 

Zeffirelli never married but adopted two adult sons, Luciano and Pippo, who cared for him and managed his business affairs. 

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