Va'aiga Tuigamala fell ill ahead of filming reality television show Celebrity Treasure Island and later died in Auckland.
Known to a generation of Kiwi fans as "Inga the Winger", the rugby legend had been cast in the new season and was due to soon start filming.
He later died in Auckland aged 52.
In a statement TVNZ said: "It's with great sorrow Te Reo Tātaki (TVNZ) and Warners NZ acknowledge the passing of Inga Tuigamala.
"The Samoan son, rugby legend and gentle giant was about to start filming on a new season of Celebrity Treasure Island and the cast, crew and TVNZers working alongside the production are devastated by the news of his loss.
"Our thoughts and aroha go out to Inga's wife and family at this very sad time," they said.
Former teammate John Akurangi said in a tribute on Facebook that he missed a call from Tuigamala and tried to call back, but a few days later was told he was in hospital.
"And even after everyone said that we couldn't go into the hospital, I tried to get to you anyway my bro, they wouldn't let me in. You know I'm stubborn like that," Akurangi said.
Paying tribute to his friend, who he had known since he was 12 years old, Akurangi said he didn't sleep much last night thinking of him and his whānau.
"It's been so lovely to have spent these last few months together with you and Daphne, laughing and joking since we have been back in New Zealand," he said.
Tuigamala's cause of death has not yet been confirmed - he was about to launch a new video series in which he talks openly about his health struggles, including being diagnosed last year with type 2 diabetes.
"The reality was, I was facing an early graveyard," Tuigamala says in a preview video of the series, Project ODICE (obesity diabetes intervention champion evangelist). "And when I say early grave, my father died at the age of 48 from a stroke. He wasn't obese, but he had a stroke and died and left 15 children to my mum to look after.
"I suppose for me, I just don't want to be another statistic. Hence the reason ODICE was born. The reality is unfortunately I've been diagnosed with type two diabetes recently. I'm obese as you can see. High blood pressure, I had a stroke about nine years ago. I've really - in rugby terms - just dropped the ball."
Tuigamala's death comes just weeks after his younger sister, Helen Verry, died following an accident at a West Auckland church.
He posted on Facebook at the time: "I suppose some of you have already heard the sad news of the passing of my baby sister Helen Verry. The youngest of 15 of us. Helen, we miss you so dearly and words would never be enough to fill the hole you have left."
Tuigamala's family released a statement this afternoon saying: "It is with great sadness and broken hearts that we announce our husband, father and grandfather has passed away unexpectedly.
"We know that people admired him for the way he conducted himself through every season of life; with a cheeky grin from ear to ear and a heart that was always ready to serve.
"If people ever wanted to know what it means to be humble, courageous and God-fearing, he was a true testament.
"We will always remember him for a smile that was so infectious it could light up an entire stadium.
"Inga never let anyone dim his light and his humble heart was always about serving others. The one defining trait about Inga was that he loved people," his family said.
Tributes have been pouring in from across the sporting world for Tuigamala.
"Every now and then a player comes along who touches the heart and soul of every single fan, player, coach and administrator – Inga was one of them. He was one of the most exciting rugby players to play either code," said Wigan executive director Kris Radlinski.
Auckland's Marist rugby club players paid tribute to their fierce rival. "It's with heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of a true entertainer, an amazing sports personality, a leader in the Pacific Island community, a legend of our biggest rugby club rivals, the Ponsonby Rugby Club. Va'aiga Tuigamala, you were an inspiration to young Pacific Islanders and Kiwis growing up in the 90s. Your infectious smile will never be forgotten."