The creator of the zombie film genre, filmmaker George Romero, died at the age of 77 on Sunday in New York. Romero was suffering from lung cancer and had died in his sleep, his long-time business partner, Peter Grunwald, told The Los Angeles Times in a statement.

Romero died while listening to his favourite score from 1952 film The Quiet Man, Grunwald said. His wife and daughter were by his side at Toronto Hospital in New York.

Romero is the director of the classic zombie film, Night of the Living Dead. The success of this film led to the creation of five sequels, including the 1978 box office hit, Dawn of the Dead.

Born in February 1940 in Bronx area of the New York City, Romero began his filmmaking career as a commercial director. Throughout his career, Romero explored the horror genre, and directed classics, including The Crazies (1973), Martin (1978), Creepshow (1982) and Monkey Shines (1988).

In an interview with NPR in July 2014, Romero had said he did not expect his career to be dominated by zombie films. “All I did was I took them out of exotica and I made them the neighbours,” he said. I thought there’s nothing scarier than the neighbours!”

Tributes pour in

Author Stephen King said he was sad to hear of Romero’s death. “George, there will never be another like you,” King said on Twitter. Actor Bruce Campbell said Night of the Living Dead was a cornerstone of the zombie genre. “Massively influential. He was bright and very sweet to me. Safe journey, George,” Campbell said.

Actor and comedian Kumail Nanjiani said Romero was “a true legend”. “Started a new genre on his own. Who else can claim that?”