The transgender actress died Sunday morning surrounded by her family at age 47 and “had been suffering for a long time. She was sick for years,” the source tells PEOPLE. “At one point, she wasn’t able to leave the house; she was in bad shape.”
In her final hours, the source says, “The whole family rallied around her. And in the end they were always there to support her. Everyone knew [her death] was imminent. It was a matter of time.”
The source tells PEOPLE Arquette’s family “is doing as well as can be expected. They all love Alexis very much.”
The Arquettes released a touching tribute Sunday night, saying, “Alexis was a brilliant artist and painter, a singer, an entertainer and an actor.”
The statement continued that Arquette’s “career was cut short, not by her passing, but by her decision to live her truth and her life as a transgender woman. Despite the fact that there are few parts for trans actors, she refused to play roles that were demeaning or stereotypical. She was a vanguard in the fight for understanding and acceptance for all trans people.”
The family added that the actress and activist “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. … We learned what real bravery is through watching her journey of living as a trans woman. We came to discover the one truth – that love is everything.”
“Thank you all for your love and kind words about Alexis,” younger brother David captioned a picture of the two on Twitter. “My hero for eternity.”
Born Robert Arquette, Alexis started acting at age 12 and went on to earn roles in the Bride of Chucky, Of Mice and Men and The Wedding Singer before documenting her transition to a woman in the 2007 film Alexis Arquette: She’s My Brother.
Arquette’s brother, Richmond announced the news of her death Sunday on Facebook (Richmond’s agent confirmed the news to PEOPLE later that day).
The social media post began, “With deepest love, respect and condolences to the Arquette family we wish to share Richmond Arquette’s announcement at the passing of his beloved brother/sister Robert/Alexis. Our hearts are heavy for this wonderful family. They are not simply brought up in fame … they’ve continued to roll up their sleeves to make a difference on this, our planet Earth, with their presence. Each and every one of them has touched our hearts and has been the example of true ‘FAMILY’ at its grandest meaning.”
The statement continued, “Robert/Alexis will continue to be loved as his/her light now resonates throughout the universe as the star we’ve always known him/her to be.”