George A. Romero in 2009. Photo by IPA/REX/Shutterstock (1003108b)

George A Romero, director of horror classic Night of the Living Dead, has died. He was 77.

In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, Romero’s producing partner Peter Grunwald said the director died in his sleep after a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer.”

Romero’s death at the age of 77 brought a close to a film and writing career that spanned nearly five decades and made him one of the most recognizable names in the horror genre. Just three days before his death, Romero released a poster for a film that would be titled Road of the Dead, which he described as “The Fast and the Furious with zombies.”

Zombies would be the first thing most people thought of concerning the iconic creator. He first entered the genre in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead, a film that was panned by critics across the country but loved by audiences who had been looking for a film that could provide legitimate scares as well as make them feel real.

That was Romero’s goal, as he had grown bored with making television commercials and wanted to produce a horror film. Despite a budget of just over $114,000, Night of the Living Dead grossed $12 million domestically, making more than 100 times its original budget.

Following that film, Romero became a household name in the genre and would go on to release five sequels to his original film. Night of the Living Dead has since been preserved in the Library of Congress for its impact on American cinema, and Romero has routinely been hailed as a horror genius since the original release. His honors include Mastermind Award at a 2009 horror movie award show and a spot on the menu at Zombie Burger in Des Moines, Iowa, a zombie-themed restaurant that features a burger with ham, egg, fries and coleslaw called “George Romero’s Pittsburgher,” in honor of both Romero and his adopted hometown of Pittsburgh.