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Wolfgang Wagner, grandson of composer Richard Wagner, dies

MUNICH - Wolfgang Wagner, the grandson of composer Richard Wagner and the leader of the Bayreuth opera festival for more than half a century, has died. He was 90.

Wagner died Sunday, the festival said in a brief statement on its Web site. It did not give further details.

"Wolfgang Wagner dedicated his whole life to the legacy of his grandfather," the festival said - adding that his long service as the event's leader means that he "goes into history as the longest-serving director in the world."

Wagner stepped down after the 2008 festival following a lengthy power struggle in which the patriarch long resisted efforts to dislodge him. He had led the festival dedicated to his grandfather's works since 1951, first with his brother, Wieland, and then as the sole director - with a lifetime contract.

His insistence on serving out that contract led in his later years to clashes with officials who oversee the event - held every summer in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth in the small brick theater built by Richard Wagner in the 1870s.

It also triggered a spat within the Wagner family that itself was worthy of opera.

For years, Wolfgang Wagner insisted that only his second wife, Gudrun, could replace him, although German government officials and others overseeing the festival refused to accept her.

By the time Gudrun died in November 2007, Wagner was insisting that only the couple's daughter, Katharina, could fill his shoes - putting him at odds with two other Wagners who also sought the job.

Wolfgang finally agreed to step aside in 2008; Katharina and Wolfgang's long-estranged daughter from his first marriage, Eva Wagner-Pasquier, teamed up to beat out a rival bid from their cousin. They took charge last year.

Born on Aug. 30, 1919, in Bayreuth, Wagner studied the trumpet and French horn before being sent to fight on the eastern front early in World War II. In 1939, he was severely wounded and sent back to Berlin.

He first took charge of the festival - along with his brother, Wieland - in 1951, reviving the event that had been stopped by the war.

The pair worked to restore its tarnished name, with Wolfgang Wagner concentrating on organization and finances of the festival. He founded the "Society of Friends of Bayreuth" to accept donations and won government support.

Following Wieland's death from cancer in 1966, Wolfgang took over as sole director.

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