Luciano Pavarotti, one of the world's great tenors and a man known for his ability to hold a high C for a period of time that seemed beyond human capability, will sing no more.

Pavarotti, 71,died at 5 a.m. Thursday in his home in Modena, Italy, of complications of pancreatic cancer. His wife, Nicoletta, four daughters and his sister were at his side, his manager said.

"The maestro fought a long, tough battle against the pancreatic cancer," manager Terri Robson said in an e-mailed statement to the Associated Press. "In fitting with the approach that characterized his life and work, he remained positive until finally succumbing to the last stages of his illness."

Pavarottihad been battling the disease since July 2006, when he cancelled a farewell concert tour on the advice of doctors.

One of the world's most recognized opera singers, Pavarotti is often credited with popularizing opera.

"For me, music making is the most joyful activity possible, the most perfect expression of any emotion," he once said.

His career mixed concert appearances featuring both modern popular songs and the opera classics. As a member of the Three Tenors, with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, he packed arenas.

He performed 379 times at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and 140 times at Milan's La Scala, as well as appearing on opera stages around the world.

"Above all, I am an opera singer. This is how people will remember me," Pavarotti said.

Tributes pour in

There has been an outpouring of tributes in reaction to Pavarotti's death, with the Vienna State Opera raising a black flag of mourning and the town of Modena announcing it will name a theatre after him.

His compatriots in the Three Tenors led the tributes, with Spanish star Carreras referring to Pavarotti as "one of the most important tenors of all time."

Carreras recalled him as a friend with a great sense of humour.

"We have to remember him as the great artist that he was, the man with such a wonderful charismatic personality — a very good friend and a great poker player."

Domingo, also Spanish, recalled "that unmistakable special timbre from the bottom up to the very top of the tenor range."

The Royal Opera House in London hailed Pavarotti for his wide popularity among those who might not otherwise pay attention to opera.

He was "one of those rare artists who affected the lives of people across the globe in all walks of life," the opera house said in a statement.

"Through his countless broadcasts, recordings and concerts he introduced the extraordinary power of opera to people who perhaps would never have encountered opera and classical singing, in doing so he enriched their lives."

Began singing with father

Pavarotti was born in Modena in north-central Italy on Oct. 12, 1935. His father was a baker and his mother worked in a cigar factory.

He began singing with his father, who also had a fine tenor voice, in the local church choir and listened to recordings of popular tenors such as Beniamino Gigli and Enrico Caruso.

His aspiration was to become a soccer star, but he acceded to his mother's advice and became a teacher, teaching elementary school for two years.

Pavarotti began serious voice study in 1954 at the age of 19 with Arrigo Pola, a professional tenor in Modena, and two years later became a student of Ettore Campogalliani.

He supported himself at other jobs through six years of study and a handful of modest recitals in small towns.

Gave up singing

Then, disillusioned, he decided to give up singing. All of a sudden his voice became remarkable.

"Everything I had learned came together with my natural voice to make the sound I had been struggling so hard to achieve," he wrote in his autobiography.

He made his debut as Rodolfo in Puccini's La Bohème at Reggio Emilia, Italy, in 1961, and first sang in North America in 1965 opposite Joan Sutherland in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in Miami. He got the role at Sutherland's suggestion after the lead tenor fell ill, with no understudy.

"The beginning, I am an elementary school teacher," he told the BBC in a 2005 interview. "And on 21 April, 1961, I became a tenor. That is a very, very significant date for me."

On Thursday, Sutherland recalled the reasons she mentored the young singer. "The quality of the sound was so different. You knew immediately it was Luciano singing," she said.

That same year he made his debut at La Scala in La Bohème, returning later in the year in the role of Tebaldo from I Capuleti e i Montecchi.

Throughout the 1960s, his international career grew, with appearances in London, Rome and throughout the U.S. and Australia.

"I'm a perfectionist, and I always think that I can do better what I have done, even if it's good," he said.

Wowed New York

He wowed New York audiences in a Feb. 17, 1972, production of Donizetti's La fille du régiment at the Met with nine effortless high Cs, and received a record 17 curtain calls.

Pavarotti's showy style was also a hit on TV and he starred in the first Live from the Met broadcast in 1977.

During his international recital debut at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., in 1973, he asked for a handkerchief to wipe his perspiring forehead and was given a white dinner napkin, a prop that became a signature part of his act.

His recording and opera career assured, Pavarotti turned in the 1980s to developing young singers, setting up the Pavarotti International Voice Competition, in which he mentored new talent and occasionally performed.

He made a ground-breaking trip to China in 1986, and performed before 10,000 people in Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

Booed in Milan

He was not always in form — he was famously booed in Milan for cracking one of his famous high notes.

"The things went wrong. I am a very optimistic human being in one sense, yes, but I like the truth," he said.

"So liking the truth, twice they booed me off stage in Milan because I was not singing my best. But they give them the opportunity to do it. So I have to be honest with myself."

His collaborations with artists such as Celine Dion, Bryan Adams and Bono were sometimes criticized in the opera world.

New York Times opera critic Anne Midgette, who co-authored The King and I: The Uncensored Tale of Luciano Pavarotti's Rise to Fame, recalled the flack Pavarotti caught from those who thought opera should be "high art."

"He was great with the fans, he would spend hours signing autographs," she told CBC's Q cultural affairs program.

"This is pretty much directly in the operatic tradition. Opera in the 19th century in Italy was a populist form. Opera was something people sang in the street and I think Pavarotti brought that aspect of it back," she said.

"He was beloved by opera fans for his distinctive and unique voice in the early years and beloved by mass audiences for his charisma and spark in his later years," she said.

Pivotal performance

In 1990, Pavarotti's version of Nessun Dorma from Puccini's Turandot became the theme song of the 1990 FIFA World Cup, an event which helped move opera into the mainstream.

The Three Tenors concert conducted by Zubin Mehta after the 1990 World Cup became one of the world's biggest classical recordings and the trio began packing concert halls and arenas worldwide.

Pavarotti performed in London's Hyde Park, New York's Central Park and outside the Eiffel Tower in concerts that attracted hundreds of thousands of people.

He retired from opera two years ago with a finale at the Met in New York, but has continued his concert career.

His personal life has been at times turbulent, and he is a darling of the Italian press. He was married for 35 years to his first wife, Adua, and they had three daughters.

But the press exposedhis alliance with his personal assistant, Nicoletta Mantovani, who became his second wife in 2003. They have a daughter, born in 2003.

With files from the Associated Press