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Giorgio Strehler, a leftist director who founded Milan's Little Theater 50 years ago and introduced Italy to the works of Bertolt Brecht, died Thursday in his home in Switzerland, a news agency reported. He was 76.

Strehler died of a heart attack, the Italian news agency ANSA said, quoting his theater's press office.

Born in 1921 in the town of Barcola, near the northeastern city of Trieste, Strehler grew up in a family of artists. His mother was a violinist, and their house was a favorite meeting place of actors, theater promoters and musicians.

Strehler attended a local drama school in Milan. A staunch anti-fascist, he fled to Switzerland during World War II. He returned to Italy in 1947 and, with Paolo Grassi, who later became superintendent of Milan's La Scala Opera House, founded Piccolo Teatro (Little Theater) in a downtown building made available by the city government.

The theater would go on to present Strehler's favorite works, by Shakespeare, Brecht, Anton Chekhov and Carlo Goldoni, the 18th-century Italian playwright.

Strehler took his works on much-applauded tours through Western and Eastern Europe, North America and Latin America.

He became a member of the European Parliament in 1983 after running on the Italian Socialist Party ticket.

Also that year, he accepted a position as director of the Theater of Nations in Paris, in a rare, temporary separation from his beloved Little Theater.

Among Strehler's favorite performers was his German wife, Andrea Johanasson.

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