Born Gianfranco Corsi, Zeffirelli has also been a member of the Italian senate since 1996, representing the Forza Italia party. In the U.S., he is best known for having directed the 1968 film version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet a feat which garnered him an Academy Award nomination. Franco Zeffirelli is openly gay, and his intepretation of Romeo is clearly meant to be homosexual or at least bisexual.
Zeffirelli was born and grew up in Florence, in contact with a group of British expatriates who inspired his 1999 film Tea With Mussolini. His 1977 television miniseries Jesus of Nazareth also won acclaim and is still shown on Easter weekend in many countries.
During World War II, he fought as a partisan before he met up with the British soldiers of the 1st Scots Guards and became their interpreter. In the post war years, he studied art and architecture at the University of Florence, and worked with directors such as Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti.
In the 1960s, he made his name designing and directing his own plays in London and New York, and soon transferred his ideas to cinema. Zeffirelli has also been a major director of opera productions since the 1950s in Italy, Europe, and the USA.
In November 2004 he was awarded an honorary knighthood by the United Kingdom. In 1999 received the Crystal Globe award for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
He was quoted as saying "I am homosexual, not gay; I hate this politically correct term."