Cyrille Regis, who was a striker, represented the likes of West Bromwich Albion, Coventry City and Aston Villa over the course of a 20-year playing career that began in the 1970s.
He was also capped five times by England between 1982 and 1987.
The professional Footballers Association described Regis, who was widely reported to have died from a heart attack, as "a true gentleman and legend, he will be deeply missed" in a tweet Monday.
by West Brom said Regis was "one of the great symbols of the fight against racism in Britain as a pioneer for black footballers across this nation and beyond."
West Brom chairman, John Williams, paid tribute to "a crusader against bigotry" and "a man who threw considerable energy into a series of worthy causes."
Regis was born in French Guiana
but moved to London when he was just five.
He signed for Midlands club West Brom in 1977 where he had the most potent spell of his career, scoring 112 goals in 297 games.
It was there he played alongside two other black players, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson.
The trio became known as the "Three Degrees" and were frequently the targets of racist abuse and chants.
Regis described some of that abuse in a recent interview with CNN
"The worst for me was getting my first England cap and receiving a bullet through the post saying 'if you put your foot on our Wembley turf, you'll get one of these for your knees,'" Regis recalled.
"But in England I think we've come a long, long way from where we were in the seventies," he added.
He also described the introduction of the English FA's version of the "Rooney Rule" -- which would see at least one black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) applicant interviewed for future roles in the England national team system -- as something that would help more black people get into football management and administration.
Regis' manager at West Brom and Aston Villa, Ron Atkinson, spoke glowingly of his former player Monday.
"I've always said he was the best I've ever worked with," Atkinson told CNN.
"One travesty is he only ever got five international caps when he was worth a lot more than that," he added.
Atkinson gave a start to many aspiring black footballers in the 1970s and 80s but was accused of racism later in his career
after making derogatory comments, for which he subsequently apologized, about former France international Marcel Desailly.
Atkinson said that the racism and abuse piled on Regis from hostile crowds never seemed to affect his performances.
"He just used to get on with it," Atkinson said. "Everybody seemed to admire the way he went about his business and the way he played."
Tributes to Regis also poured in on social media.
Coventry City, whom he helped to FA Cup glory in 1987, described Regis as a "legend" and a "hero."
Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands region that is home to West Brom, said Regis did "so much to blaze a trail for racial equality in football and will be missed."
Meanwhile, former Manchester United and England striker, Andrew Cole, tweeted that Regis was "the reason I wanted to play football."
Anti-racism charity Kick It Out said Regis was "a great supporter" of its work to tackle racism in football as well as "one of the first iconic black players of the professional game."
Regis is survived by two children Robert and Michelle and three grandchildren Jayda, Renée and Riley.