Katie Trainor, Dave Kehr, Director George A. Romero, Russ Streiner and Josh Siegel attend the Night of the Living Dead World Premiere of Restored Print on November 5, 2016 in New York.
NEW YORK - George A. Romero, creator of the zombie film genre - with Night of the Living Dead and a series of sequels that left a lasting impact on horror movies - died of lung cancer in a Toronto hospital on Sunday, his business partner said. He was 77.
Master to us all R.I.P George A. Romero pic.twitter.com/3UbWFlbCb4— Fede Alvarez (@fedalvar) July 16, 2017
Romero wrote and directed the 1968 classic, in which the dead come back to life and eat the flesh of the living, and five sequels including the 1978 box office hit Dawn of the Dead.
"A true legend," actor Kumail Nanjiani said on Twitter. "Started a new genre on his own. Who else can claim that?"
Besides the horror of flesh-eating zombies, the Dead films featured the theme of people who panic while under siege, turning on each other instead of uniting against their common enemy.
Romero, who was born in the Bronx borough of New York, was drawn to telling stories about monsters that are familiar to the people they terrorise, said his business partner, Peter Grunwald.
George A Romero - a master filmmaker - has died. His 'Dead' saga remains one of cinema's great achievements. pic.twitter.com/t3cYxet7lJ— Little White Lies (@LWLies) July 16, 2017
"They're not crazy, fantastical monsters. They're our neighbours, our relatives, our friends. They're kind of scarier for that, scarier than big, special effects, sci-fi monsters," Grunwald said.
Romero influenced a generation of filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo del Toro, Robert Rodriguez and the late Wes Craven, according to Grunwald.
Romero owned a small commercial production company when he convinced nine others to put up a small amount of money to finance Night of the Living Dead, Grunwald said.
Originally called Night of the Flesh Eaters, the title was changed by the film's distributor, Walter Reade. Somehow, no copyright protection was filed after the name change, putting Night of the Living Dead into the public domain and allowing anyone to distribute it for free.
Goodbye George A Romero. We laughed through 50 years and 9 films. I will miss him. There is a light that has gone out and can't be replaced. pic.twitter.com/N0MAC1ItVM— Tom Savini (@THETomSavini) July 16, 2017
Romero told The New York Times in 2016 that many more people saw the movie as result, "keeping the film alive."
Made for an estimated $114,000 (R1.48-million), the black-and-white film has grossed some $30-million worldwide, according to the internet movie database site IMDb.com. Dawn of the Dead grossed $55-million worldwide, the website said.
Commercial success "allowed him to make movies on his own terms," Grunwald said.
Other sequels included Day of the Dead in 1985, Land of the Dead in 2005, Diary of the Dead in 2007 and Survival of the Dead in 2009, all which Romero directed.
He also directed the vampire movie Martin in 1978 and collaborated with Stephen King on the 1982 film Creepshow and directed The Dark Half, based on a King novel, in 1993.