His movies were groundbreaking—and that ground was over a grave. George Romero, the director known as the "Father of the Zombie Film" for 1968's Night of the Living Dead and its follow-ups, died of lung cancer on Sunday, CNN reports. He was 77. Romero, who grew up in the Bronx, used money from directing commercials to make Night of the Living Dead, which, per the BBC, was the "first film to depict cannibalistic reanimated corpses." It made $30 million on a budget of $114,000 and spawned five sequels, including 1978's mall-set Dawn of the Dead, which is widely considered to be one of the best horror movies of all time. Romero also directed non-zombie horror movies, including 1982's Creepshow.
Romero spent most of his life in Pittsburgh, which now hosts an annual Zombie Fest and is sometimes called the "Zombie Capital of the World," the Hollywood Reporter notes. The director, who mixed social commentary with the gore, most recently returned to the zombie genre with the Empire of the Dead graphic novel. "I used to be the only guy in the playground, I was the only guy doing zombies," he said in a recent Timeline documentary. "Then all of a sudden The Walking Dead happened and it became mainstream. And now they're all over the place." Family members say he died peacefully, listening to the score from one of his favorite movies: 1952's The Quiet Man.