He directed stars including Elizabeth Taylor and opera greats such as Maria Callas.
The Florence native directed stars including Elizabeth Taylor in the 1967 film Taming of the Shrew and Dame Judi Dench on stage in Romeo and Juliet.
Italian media said Zeffirelli died after a long illness which had grown worse in recent months.
The two-time Oscar nominee also served in the Italian senate for two terms as a member of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.
He is perhaps best known to many as the director of the 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet – starring a then-unknown Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey.
It was viewed by generations of school students studying the Shakespearean drama.
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