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Father of the Zombie Film, George A. Romero Dead at 77

George Romero, whose “Night of the Living Dead” and other films defined modern day zombie movies, has died. He was 77.

Romero died Sunday after a battle with lung dancer, said his family in a statement provided by his manager Chris Roe. Romero’s family said he died while listening to the score of “The Quiet Man,” one of his favorite films, with his wife Suzanne Desrocher, and daughter, Tina Romero, by his side.

Romero is credited with reinventing the movie zombie with his directorial debut, the 1968 film, “Night of the Living Dead.” The movie set the rules many imitators lived by: Zombies move slowly, lust for human flesh and can only die with shots to the head. If a zombie bites a human, the person dies and comes back to life as a zombie.

Romeros’ zombies, however, were more than cannibles; they were metaphors for conformity, racism, mall culture, militarism, class differences ad other social ills.

“The zombies, they could be anything,” Romero told The Associated Press in 2008. “They could be an avalanche, they could be a hurricane. It’s a disaster out there. The stories are about how people fail to respond in the proper way. They fail to address it. They keep trying to stick where they are, instead of recognizing maybe this is too big for us to try to maintain. That’s the part of it that I’ve always enjoyed.”

Many viewed the film as a critique on racism. The sole black character in the film survives the zombies, but is fatally shot by rescuers.

Ten years later, Romero made “Dawn of the Dead,” where human survivors took refuge from the undead in a mall and then turn on each other as the zombies stumble around the shopping complex.

Film critic Roger Ebert called it “one of the best horror films ever made — and, as an inescapable result, one of the most horrifying. It is gruesome, sickening, disgusting, violent, brutal and appalling. It is also … brilliantly crafted, funny, droll, and savagely merciless in its satiric view of the American consumer society.”

Romero has had some contentious views with genre he helped create. He called “The Walking Dead” a “soap opera” ad said big-budget films like “World War Z” made modest zombie films impossible. Romero maintained that he wouldn’t make horror films he couldn’t fill with political statements.

“People say, ‘You’re trapped in this genre. You’re a horror guy.’ I say, ’Wait a minute, I’m able to say exactly what I think,” Romero told the AP. “I’m able to talk about, comment about, take snapshots of what’s going on at the time. I don’t feel trapped. I feel this is my way of being able to express myself.”

George Andrew Romero was born on Feb. 4, 1940, in New York City. He grew up in the Bronx, and he was a fan of horror comics and movies in the pre-VCR era.

“I grew up at the Loews American in the Bronx,” he wrote in an issue of the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine in 2002.

His favorite film was Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s “The Tales of Hoffman,” based on Jacques Offenbach’s opera. It was, he once wrote, “the one movie that made me want to make movies.”

He spoke fondly of traveling to Manhattan to rent a 16mm version of the film from a distribution house. When the film was unavailable, Romero said, it was because another “kid” had rented it — Martin Scorsese.

Romero graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1960. He learned the movie business working on the sets of movies and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” which was shot in Pittsburgh.

The city became Romero’s home and many of his films were set in western Pennsylvania. “Dawn of the Dead” was filmed in suburban Monroeville Mall, which has since become a popular destination for his fans.