Having emerged from his native Italy as one of that country's most revered directors, Franco Zeffirelli's distinctive career reflected his reverence for the classics of music and literature. Nearly all his films were lavish adaptations that utilized lush locations, extravagant sets and sumptuous costumes, which he first put on display in his contemporary-minded rendition of William Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" (1967). He vaulted onto the international stage with another adaptation of the Bard's work, "Romeo and Juliet" (1968), which featured inspired casting and a modern thematic take that helped it become a box office smash. After struggling a bit in the next decade, Zeffirelli delivered a stunning and rather reverent examination of "Jesus of Nazareth" (NBC, 1977), and on the big screen directed a remake of the 1931 Jackie Cooper movie, "The Champ" (1979). In the following decade, Zeffirelli focused much of his attention on opera, directing "La Bohème" (1982) and "Don Giovanni" for the stage, and "La Traviata" (1983) for the screen. He went on to turn action star Mel Gibson into a bona fide thespian in his shortened adaptation of "Hamlet" (1990), before tapping into his own life to direct the semi-autobiographical "Tea with Mussolini" (1999), which earned the highest praise of his career. Though his films were filled with detail that sometimes tended to overwhelm, Zeffielli nonetheless remained a daring filmmaker unafraid to pursue risky projects in an otherwise predictable commercial market.