He went on to direct a number of noted features in the 1960s and 1970s, including "A Fine Madness" with Sean Connery, Joanne Woodward and Jean Seberg, "The Flim-Flam Man" with George C. Scott, "Loving" with George Segal and Eva Marie Saint, and "The Eyes of Laura Mars" with Faye Dunaway.
The 1976 television movie "Raid on Entebbe" earned him an Emmy nomination for direction.
Besides "Empire," his big-budget work included the 1983 James Bond movie "Never Say Never Again" with Connery and "Robocop 2" in 1990.
"We all enjoyed knowing Kersh, learning from him and admired his creative spirit and indomitable will," Francis Ford Coppola said in a statement. "It was always exciting to talk with him about all aspects of cinema and life. He will most certainly be missed."
"He had the most incredible spirit, an exuberance for life. Always working, always thinking, always writing, amazingly gifted and forever curious," said Barbra Streisand, a friend who worked with him on 1972's "Up the Sandbox."
Kershner also was an occasional actor. He played the priest Zebedee in Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ."
In recent years, Kershner taught screenwriting at the University of Southern California while continuing to produce, write and create still photographs, Guttman said.
He is survived by two sons, David Kershner and Dana Kershner.
"My father never really retired. He had a powerful drive to create — whether it be through film, photography, or writing," David Kershner said.
At the time of his death, he was working on a documentary about his friend, writer Ray Bradbury, and a musical called "Djinn" about the friendship between a Jewish immigrant and an Arab sheik in Palestine before it became Israel, his son said.
His son said told him in September: "You have to throw yourself into things. There is no second way. Passion gives you energy."
AP Entertainment writer Alicia Quarles in New York and AP writer Angela Doland in Paris contributed to this report.