Paul Russell, artistic director of Boise's American Festival Ballet, died Friday morning after a long illness. He was 41.

Russell, who had been on medical leave since Jan. 1, died at 4:40 a.m. Friday at Davies Medical Center in San Francisco.Hospital personnel confirmed the time but would not reveal the cause of Russell's death.

"He went very peacefully and quietly in his sleep," said Randy Griffin, a friend of Russell's in San Francisco.

Members of Idaho's arts community expressed sadness at Russell's death and admiration for his artistic vision.

"This is really bad news," said Mike Moser, chairman of the ballet board. "Paul had a very distinctive style. It was classical but yet he did things that were somewhat unique in delivering that classical style."

Jack Alotto, former ballet executive director, hired Russell in the fall of 1988.