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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Legendary Tenor Pavarotti Dead at 71

MODENA, Italy -- Legendary Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who brought opera to the masses with his powerful voice and jovial personality, died Thursday of pancreatic cancer. He was 71.

Although his health had been failing for a year, the death of the bearded tenor, known as "Big Luciano" because of his 127-kilogram bulk, saddened everyone, from impresarios and critics to fans who could barely afford tickets.

"There were tenors, and then there was Pavarotti," Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli said.

While past opera greats often locked themselves in a gilded, elitist world, television viewers around the world heard Pavarotti sing with pop stars, including Sting and Bono, in his "Pavarotti and Friends" benefit concerts for the needy.

"He was one of those rare artists who affected the lives of people across the globe, in all walks of life," London's Royal Opera House at Covent Garden said in a statement.

"Through his countless broadcasts, recordings and concerts, he introduced the extraordinary power of opera to people who perhaps would never have encountered opera and classical singing. In doing so, he enriched their lives. That will be his legacy."

Vienna's opera house flew a black flag to mourn "a human being who had an extraordinary impact through his art and who gave endlessly to his audience," director Ioan Holender said.

Already famous in the opera world, he leapt to superstardom when he and two other tenor greats, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, sang at Rome's Caracalla Baths during the 1990 football World Cup in Italy.

"It's a great loss. He was without doubt one of the most important tenors of all time. He was a wonderful man, a charismatic person. And a good poker player," Carreras told the Swedish newspaper Expressen.

Pavarotti's father was a baker who liked to sing, and his mother worked in a cigar factory. The people of Modena, a provincial town in northeast Italy, mourned a man who remained attached to his hometown.

Venusta Nascetti, 71, who used to serve Pavarotti coffee in a local bar when he was a teenager, remembered him as being "full of joy, he had a happy spirit."

Pavarotti's big break came thanks to another Italian opera great, Giuseppe di Stefano, who dropped out of a performance of "La Boheme" at Covent Garden in 1963. The house had lined up "this large young man" as a stand-in -- and a star was born.

In 1972, he famously hit nine high C's in a row in "Daughter of the Regiment" at New York's Metropolitan Opera, which he referred to as "my home."

His last public singing performance was at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Turin in February 2006.

Pavarotti received two more weeks' treatment in a hospital and went home Aug. 25. He spent his final hours at home with family and friends nearby, his manager Terri Robson said.