George Romero died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday after a brief battle with lung cancer, his agent Chris Roe said, adding that the director passed away while "listening to the score of 'The Quiet Man,' one of his all-time favorite films," with his wife and daughter at his side.
Romero is credited with pioneering the zombie film genre. His 1968 black-and-white cult classic "Night of the Living Dead" was created with a budget of just over $100,000 but went on to gross over $30 million worldwide. The film inspired five sequels including "Dawn of the Dead" and "Day of the Dead."
"Night of the Living Dead" featured black actor Duane Jones in the lead, which was unusual at a time when race relations were testing the country. The film was seen by some scholars as a subversive criticism of US society in the 1960s, and has been added by the Library of Congress to the National Film Registry for works that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Subsequent films like "There's Always Vanilla" and "The Crazies" were less successful, but Romero returned to the zombie genre in 1978 with "Dawn of the Dead."
Tributes from Hollywood
Condolences poured in from Hollywood after Romero's death was announced, including from action film director Zack Snyder, who made his feature film debut with the 2004 remake of "Dawn of the Dead."
Horror writer Stephen King also paid tribute.
"George Romero deserved to get 5 percent of every zombie movie made after 1968. But he didn't. And he was always classy about it," said film critic Scott Weinberg.
Romero was born in 1940 in New York to a Cuban father and Lithuanian-American mother. Many of his films were shot in Pittsburgh, where he resettled after leaving New York. He is survived by his wife and daughter.
kbm/sb (AFP, dpa)