Key Points:

Veteran Maori actor and film-maker Don Selwyn died today in North Shore Hospital after a long illness.

Selwyn, who began his long career on stage in a pink tutu, was widely recognised and honoured for his creative talents.

He was a founding member of the New Zealand Maori Theatre Trust -- inspiring others with his vision that it would lead to greater opportunities for Maori performers.

He became a leading proponent of Maori drama, performed in both Maori and English, and a prime mover in encouraging respect for Maori viewpoints and culture in mainstream New Zealand film and television drama.

Eighteen months ago when he was presented with the Creative New Zealand Maori Arts Board's award for his "outstanding contribution to the development of Maori arts", CNZ chairwoman Elizabeth Ellis noted his wide scope of participation.

She praised his direct contribution as an actor, producer and director in stage, television and film and his "tireless work" training and mentoring young Maori in the industry.

In 1984 Selwyn began a film and television training course for Maori and Pacific Islanders and in 1992 jointly formed He Taonga Films to create opportunities for course graduates and to provide outlets for Maori drama writers.

Among many films from this company, Selwyn produced and directed Don't Go Past With Your Nose in the Air, winner of the "best foreign short" at the New York Festival in 1992.

Selwyn also made the Merchant of Venice, the first Maori language feature film with English subtitles. It was released in February 2001.

Ms Ellis praised the film as a "major achievement".

Selwyn had staged it as a play in Auckland a decade earlier and determined then to turn it into a film.

Selwyn, of Ngati Kuri and Te Aupouri descent, grew up in Taumarunui, and became a schoolteacher.

He had his first taste of acting as a result of a dare when he attended a rehearsal of A Midsummer Night's Dream with an actor friend.

He'd go to the rehearsal if his friend would go to Selwyn's rugby practice.

The actor playing Oberon was taken ill and director Nola Miller asked Selwyn to step in.

He took to the stage in a pink tutu with butterfly wings as the King of the Fairies to later good-natured ribbing from his rugby mates.

Selwyn, however, was hooked. He toured with Miller's Shakespeare company, playing Caesar, Antony, Othello and Shylock and broadened his repertoire with musicals (Porgy and Bess), film (Sleeping Dogs) and television (Mortimer's Patch, Marlin Bay, The Governor and Pukemanu).

Selwyn was honoured with an ONZM in 1999, an honorary performing arts degree from Unitec the same year, and an honorary degree from Massey University in 2002.

At the 2003 New Zealand film awards ceremony was given a lifetime achievement award for his "influential work" in film, television and theatre.

The Arts Foundation of New Zealand said it was saddened by his death. Selwyn had been selected as a recipient of the foundation's Icon awards this year.

- NZPA