Celebrated film director Franco Zeffirelli dead at 96

Celebrated Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli has passed away, he was 96 years old. The director died at his home in Rome.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has lead the tributes to the acclaimed film and opera director, he said he was “profoundly moved by the death of Zeffirelli, who was an Italian ambassador of cinema, art and beauty.”

Zeffirelli is remembered for his 1967 adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, which starred Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. He has found great success the following year with another of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Romeo and Juliet.

His later film work turned to biblical stories including the highly successful 1970’s TV series Jesus of Nazareth. As the 1970’s came to a close he made more contemporary films including The Champ starring Jon Voight, Faye Dunaway and Rick Schroder, and Endless Love with Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt. Endless Love also featured the screen debut of Tom Cruise in a minor role.

In 1990 he was praised for another Shakespearean work, his adaptation of Hamlet featured Mel Gibson, Helena Bonham-Carter, Glenn Close, Alan Bates, Ian Holm and Stephen Dillane.

His later films including Tea with Mussolini, which drew upon elements of his own life, while his final film was Callas Forever traced the life of Italian opera diva Maria Callas, who he had directed in several operas.

Zeffirelli was born out of wedlock, and often teased by relatives for his illegitimacy. His mother died when he six years old and he was raised by a variety of relatives and under the auspice of a group of elder American and British woman who lived in Rome. Referred to as the Scorpini, Zeffirelli later told their story in his acclaimed film.

The director was a strict Roman Catholic, but was often criticised for his depictions of biblical characters in his works. He was also criticised by the LGBTI community for his support of the church’s stance on homosexuality, despite being gay himself.

He caused controversy when he said told a newspaper in 2006 that while he had been sexually abused by a priest as a child, he had not suffered any harm.

Zeffirelli confirmed his sexulaity in 1996, but rarely made any mention of his personal life. He later formally adopted two adult men who he had worked with for many years.

The director was also accused of sexually inappropriate behaviour on more than occasion. Bruce Robinson, who played Bolivio in Romeo and Juliet, said he was the target of unwanted sexual advances. Robinson later based the character of Uncle Monty in the cult classic Withnail and I on Zeffirelli.

In 2018 actor Johnathon Schaech alleged that Zeffirelli sexual assaulted him when they were filming Sparrow in the early 1990s. Zeffirelli’s representative’s denied the allegation.

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OIP Staff