The Argentinian football legend, 60, suffered a heart attack at home on Wednesday just two weeks after he was released from hospital following surgery for a bleed on his brain.
Maradona won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986, having knocked England out in the quarter final with the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal and another – later voted ‘Goal of the Century.’
Renowned for his breathtaking playing ability, Maradona’s wild life off the pitch was equally notorious; running around with the mafia in Naples, serial womanising and a lethal dependency on alcohol and cocaine.
On Wednesday morning, Maradona had come down for breakfast looking pale and complained that he felt cold.
‘Me siento mal,’ he told his nephew before returning to bed in the Buenos Aires mansion.
Shortly before noon a nurse discovered Maradona and phoned for help but he was dead before paramedics could arrive.
Three days of mourning have been declared by the Argentinian president Alberto Fernandez.
‘You took us to the top of the world. You made us immensely happy. You were the greatest of all,’ the leader tweeted. ‘Thanks for having existed, Diego. We will miss you for a lifetime.’
Thousands of mourners have poured onto the streets of Buenos Aires and Naples in Italy to honour Maradona as stadiums across Europe fell silent ahead of Champions League clashes on Wednesday night.
Maradona is survived by five children, including his daughters Dalma, 33, and Ganina, 31, by his first and only wife Claudia Villafane, 58, to whom he was married from 1984 to 2004.
He had his youngest son Diego Fernando with his long-term girlfriend Veronica Ojeda in 2013; while he only acknowledged Diego Junior, 34, and daughter Jana, 23, in the last five years, both born after short flings.
The footballer’s family have yet to make any formal comment.
The last hours of the former Naples and Barcelona star’s short short life were played out in Argentinian media on Wednesday night as an autopsy expected to show he had died from a massive heart attack got underway.
Paramedics made an unsuccessful attempt to revive him after they arrived at the rented house in the gated residential estate of San Andres north of Buenos Aires he had moved to after leaving hospital following his operation on November 11.
Prosecution chief John Broyad, speaking outside San Andres as the retired footballer’s body was taken to a nearby morgue for an autopsy, said: ‘Diego Armando Maradona died around 12pm local time. The forensic police began their work at 4pm.
‘No signs of any criminality or violence have been detected. The autopsy is being carried out to determine beyond any doubt the cause of death but we can say at this stage that everything is pointing to natural causes.’
Maradona’s body is scheduled to be taken to the Argentinian’s president’s mansion, Casa Rosada, in the city of Olivos for a private viewing on Thursday morning.
It is believed that his wake will take place at the mansion, the seat of the country’s national government which houses the president’s office.
Maradona, who only turned 60 on October 30, spelled out while he was still alive the message he wanted engraved on his tombstone.
The soccer legend made the astonishing admission in a bizarre TV interview 15 years ago in which he revealed that ‘getting old with his grandchildren would mean a peaceful death’ for him.
Asked by interviewer Diego Maradona what he would say in the cemetery to the soccer legend, the interviewee said: ‘Thanks for having played football because it’s the sport that gave me most happiness and freedom and it’s like having touched the sky with my hand. Thanks to the ball.
‘Yes, I would put on the tombstone, “Thanks to the ball.”
A hearse from the coroner’s office carrying Maradona’s body was escorted by police to the medical examiner’s office as fans lined the surrounding streets to catch a glimpse of it on Wednesday afternoon.
Thousands of fans have poured onto the streets in Argentina today, many at the entrance to the football club in Buenos Aires that Maradona had managed since September last year, Club de Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata.
They hung up a banner with the legend’s face painted across it and of his mother Dalma Salvadora Franco.