Paltrow, who had been battling throat cancer, was traveling in recent days with his daughter, who recently celebrated her 30th birthday. He died from complications of pneumonia and a recurrence of the cancer, his daughter's publicist, Steven Huvane, said Thursday.
Paltrow, whose wife was actress Blythe Danner, most recently wrote and directed the quirky karaoke road movie "Duets," a film with multiple, intersecting story-lines and an ensemble cast that included his daughter.
He was perhaps best known for producing and directing episodes of the 1980s TV show "St. Elsewhere," a hospital story with odd, frustrated characters and stories that blended comedy and tragedy.
A U.S. diplomatic official said on condition of anonymity that Paltrow died in Rome, and that American officials in Italy were informed of the death Thursday. When Paltrow died was not immediately made public.
"The consular section of the embassy was contacted by the hospital where Mr. Paltrow died. It is the embassy's responsibility to help with the return of the remains," the official said.
Bruce Paltrow had made several public appearances in Italy in the last week, including at the Italian premiere of the film "Minority Report," starring Tom Cruise.
In "Duets," Gwyneth Paltrow co-starred as a Las Vegas showgirl who hits the highway with her long-lost dad, a karaoke hustler played by pop singer Huey Lewis.
In the original script, her character did not sing, but her father added it to the story.
"I wrote it in because I felt it was essential for the character to sing," Bruce Paltrow said at the time. "I thought it would be a way for her to connect with her father. And I knew how well Gwyneth could sing. When she and her mother sing together, you just can't believe it."
Gwyneth Paltrow, who won an Oscar for "Shakespeare in Love," said she saw it as an advantage taking direction from her father.
"I think he's the smartest person I've ever known in my life," she had said. "And also he's my Dad. I thought, maybe I'll work and get spoiled at the same time."
Bruce Paltrow's other child, Jake, is also a television director.
The father began his show business career writing for Screen Gems Pictures in New York City and in the early 1970s made his television breakthrough with ABC action-comedy movie called "Shirts/Skins."
Paltrow was co-nominated for best-drama Emmys in 1980 and 1981 for his work on the show "The White Shadow," about a professional basketball player who retires to coach at an inner-city high school.
His other credits include the 1982 romantic comedy "A Little Sex," starring Tim Matheson and Kate Capshaw as a couple dealing with love and infidelity. He also directed for the 1990s police drama "Homicide: Life on the Streets" and the 1995 TV movie "Ed McBain's 87th Precinct: Lightning."
He has been recognized as a champion of women and minorities, receiving the first Diversity Award from the Directors Guild of America in 1997.
The Brooklyn-born filmmaker married Danner in 1970. Co-star of "Meet the Parents," Danner was working on her new television drama "Presidio Med" in Los Angeles and was not with her husband when he died.
Huvane said Paltrow's body would be returned to the United States, although specific funeral plans remained uncertain.