Patrice Chereau, the celebrated French theatre, opera and cinema director whose works ranged from the epic 1994 film "La Reine Margot" to the seminal 1976 production of Wagner's "Ring Cycle", has died aged 68.

"He had an extraordinary vitality right until the end," said Elisabeth Tanner, co-director of the Artmedia agency that represented Chereau, as she confirmed his death after a long illness.

Chereau made 10 films including the Oscar-nominated and Cannes jury prize winner "La Reine Margot" and "Intimacy" -- which scooped the Berlin Golden Bear best film award in 2001.

He was considered one of the greats of French theatre, but made his name outside his home country with his 1976 staging of Wagner's "Ring Cycle" at the Bayreuth opera festival.

Staged from 1976 to 1980, Chereau stirred controversy with his take of Wagner's sprawling masterpiece, setting the action in the Industrial Age.

The result was a production that is today viewed as a groundbreaking work.

The director of the Paris Opera Nicolas Joel, who was Chereau's assistant on that production, said he was "overcome".

"He did me the honour of asking me to go with him to the Bayreuth festival for the centenary 'Ring Cycle.' I still have wonderful memories of the time we spent together," said Joel.

Chereau's final production, of Richard Strauss's "Elektra" at the Aix-en-Provence music festival in July, won a standing ovation.

French President Francois Hollande said in a statement: "The cultural world is in mourning and France loses an artist ... who is its pride across the world."

Born November 2, 1944 in western France's Lezigne, Chereau grew up in Paris to parents who were both artists.

Already a film buff in his teens, he discovered theatre in high school. At 22, he became the director of his first theatre in the Parisian suburbs.

One of the most multi-faceted directors of his generation, Chereau never stopped moving, criss-crossing between performing arts forms, sometimes even taking on the occasional role as an actor.

"Switching from one mode of expression to another is a necessity for me," he said.

Besides film and opera, he was also active in theatre, even crossing the Channel to stage a play at London's Young Vic theatre in 2010.

Chereau was also not one to hide his political leanings.

In 1962, he demonstrated against France's war in Algeria, in 1979, he backed Vaclav Havel in Prague, and in 1994, he screened "La Reine Margot" in Sarajevo during the brutal siege. In 2000, when the far-right became part of Austria's coalition government, he boycotted the Salzburg festival.

Chereau has said he wanted to "tell great stories or terrifying fairy tales", but most of all, to show the secret links between art and the most intimate emotions.

In the film "Intimacy", an adaptation of a novel by Hanif Kureishi, Chereau turned to daring nudity, and explicit scenes of oral sex to tell a tale of sexual obsession.

The film sparked controversy, but for Chereau: "It is not like a porno film, not at all erotic sometimes, but it is beautiful because it is life."