Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, who was famed for productions including the 1968 movie adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, has died in Rome at the age of 96.

The director of movies and operas "died serenely after a long illness, which had worsened these last months," Italian media said, citing family members.

"I never wanted this day to come. Franco Zeffirelli departed this morning. One of the greatest men in the world of culture.

"We join in the grief of his loved ones. Goodbye, dear Master, Florence will never forget you," tweeted Dario Nardella, the mayor of Florence, where Zeffirelli was born.

Director Franco Zeffirelli attends the premiere party for Othello on September 10, 1986 at Tavern on the Green in New York City

A director, screenwriter, and producer, Zeffirelli has about 20 feature films to his name.

Internationally, he is best known for having directed the 1968 film version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.

Franco Zeffirelli attends the 2008 American Academy McKim Award ceremony in Rome on May 29 2008

He also borrowed from Shakespeare for adaptations of Hamlet in 1992 with Mel Gibson and Glenn Close, and The Taming of the Shrew in 1967 with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He also directed more than 30 plays and operas.

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