Considered one of the giants of Italian and world cinema, he was the only Italian to win an Oscar for best film.
Bertolucci won two Oscars for directing and co-writing his 1987 The Last Emperor, a biographical masterpiece about the last Chinese emperor. It won a total of nine Oscars, all of those for which it was nominated.
Born in Parma, northeastern Italy, in 1941, Bertolucci began his career as an assistant director to Pier Paolo Pasolini on the 1961 film Accattone.
The following year he made his first feature, la Commare Secca, aged just 21.
He made 18 films in total. Inspired by Pasolini, he had a critcial view of his native Italy and its intellectuals.
Several of his films were highly politicized: 1900 dealt with workers' struggles while The Conformist explored the fate of left-wingers in fascist Italy.
He was thrust into the spotlight in 1972 with his erotic drama Last Tango In Paris starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider.
The film revolves around the relationship between an American businessman, played by Brando and a young Frenchwoman played by Maria Schneider, 19 years old at the time.
A notorious sodomy scene in which Brando's character uses butter as a sexual lubricant created a huge scandal in Italy and the film was banned in several countries.
Last Tango In Paris - Trailer (1972)
In his five-decade career, Bertolucci switched between huge productions like 1900 and The Sheltering Sky and lower budget films, but never lost his transgressive streak.
He'd been wheelchair-bound for several years and won an honorary Palme d'Or for his life's work at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
Former festival president Gilles Jacob said he was saddened by the death of "the last emperor of Italian cinema, the lord of all epics and all escapades."
"The party is over: it takes two to tango," Jacob told French media.