The American boxer's life and career were marked by tragedy, drug addiction and controversy, but he shrugged everything off to win belts in three different weight categories - super-flyweight, flyweight and bantamweight - during an 11-year stretch in which he was never beaten.
Details of the cause of death have not yet been revealed but local police confirmed that the circumstances were not suspicious.
Tapia was a huge fan favourite after overcoming the most horrific of tragedies: his father was murdered while his mother was still pregnant with him; at the age of seven he survived a horrendous crash when a bus he was in careered off a 100ft cliff; and worst of all, a year later his mother was raped, tortured and murdered.
Dedicating himself to boxing from the age of nine, he quickly shone and enjoyed a stellar amateur career before turning professional in 1988. Two years later he was unbeaten and seemed set for the top of the sport, but he was suspended for three and a half years after testing positive for cocaine.
He returned to the ring in 1994 and soon won his first world title, the WBO super flyweight crown, and added the IBF version of the title three years later before moving up to bantamweight to become WBA champion in 1998.
A year later he lost the first bout of his professional career against Paulie Ayala, and was so devastated that he tried to commit suicide with a drug overdose. He survived, in the process recording the first of five occasions that he survived after being pronounced clinically dead.
In 1999, however, he returned to the ring to become WBO bantamweight champion, before going up another weight category and collecting the WBC and IBF featherweight titles before eventually losing his titles to Marco Antonio Barrera in 2002.
In 2007 he announced he would fight one more time before retiring, but after narrowly losing a split decision he almost died from a cocaine overdose.
Tragedy still refused to stop following him, however: his brother-in-law and nephew were killed in a car crash as they were on their way to visit him as he recovered in hospital.
Tapia continued to struggle with drug addiction, and spent time in prison on several occasions, including once when he violated his parole by helping his family to search for a missing cousin. The cousin was found dead four days later.
His last spell in jail came after he failed a drug test in 2010 but once again he returned to the ring, earning three more victories to end his career with 59 wins, five defeats and two draws in one of the most extraordinary sporting lives of all time.