Her siblings David, Rosanna, Richmond and Patricia Arquette were with her when she died shortly after midnight and Richmond initially broke the news to friends and fans on Facebook.

The Arquettes have since remembered their sister in a joint statement, which reads: "Alexis was a brilliant artist and painter, a singer, an entertainer and an actor.

"She starred in movies like Last Exit to Brooklyn, Pulp Fiction, Jumpin' at the Boneyard, Of Mice and Men, The Wedding Singer, and The Bride of Chucky. Her career was cut short, not by her passing, but by her decision to live her truth and her life as a transgender woman."

Robert Arquette became Alexis in 2006.

"Despite the fact that there are few parts for trans actors, she refused to play roles that were demeaning or stereotypical," the family statement continues. "She was a vanguard in the fight for understanding and acceptance for all trans people.

"She fiercely lived her reality in a world where it is dangerous to be a trans person - a world largely unready to accept differences among human beings, and where there is still the ugliness of violence and hostility towards people that we may not understand."

David, Patricia, Rosanna and Richmond continued the family tribute by calling Alexis "more than a sibling" and "our great teacher", adding, "As Alexis transitioned into being a woman, she taught us tolerance and acceptance. As she moved through her process, she became our sister, teaching us what real love is.

"She passed away surrounded by love. We held her and sang her David Bowie's Starman as she punched through the veil to the other side. We washed her body in rose petals and surrounded her with flowers... We are comforted by the fact that Alexis came into our family and was our brother and then our sister, and that she gave us so much love. We will love you always, Alexis. We know we were the lucky ones."

The Arquettes have asked that in lieu of flowers or gifts, fans send donations to charities that support the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community in honour of Alexis.

The letter, signed by the actress' brothers and sisters ends with a respect for privacy "during this time of grieving".

David's ex-wife, actress Courteney Cox, also paid tribute to her former in-law, writing on Twitter, "My heart goes out to anyone who was lucky enough to know Alexis. We will love and miss you forever."