Rapper and actor Dwight Arrington Myers, better known as Heavy D, who served as the leader of popular 1990s hip-hop group Heavy D & the Boyz, died Tuesday in Los Angeles after being hospitalized with respiratory problems. He was 44.

Grandmaster Flash was among the first to break the news over Twitter, posting, “I was just told Heavy D passed away.” Hip-hop journalist Dream Hampton later confirmed the death, and social network tributes from the likes of A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip as well as Dwayne Johnson and Vivica Fox poured in immediately.

In a statement, comedian and “In Living Color” cast member Tommy Davidson said: “Most know Heavy D as a rap icon; I considered him a brother who made an indelible mark on me as a performer and a human being. I miss him already.”

A gifted rhymesmith who largely eschewed profanity and adopted a cuddly recorded persona, the “overweight lover” Myers managed to break through to the pop crossover market without alienating his hardcore hip-hop audience, among whom he remained a beloved touchstone figure long after his commercial heyday.

Born in Jamaica, Myers moved to Mount Vernon, N.Y., as a child. Joining forces with three childhood friends, Myers formed Heavy D & the Boyz in the late 1980s and managed to get a demo tape to Def Jam exec Andre Harrell, who signed them to his nascent label Uptown Records. The group released its debut, “Living Large,” to respectable returns in 1987.

Follow-up effort “Big Tyme” provided the group’s true breakthrough in 1989. Anchored by production work from New Jack Swing auteur Teddy Riley and hip-hop classicist Marley Marl, the album broached the Billboard album chart’s top 20 and hit No. 1 on the R&B charts, eventually going platinum; 1991’s “Peaceful Journey” went platinum as well, and Myers was subsequently recruited to rap on Michael Jackson single “Jam” (produced by Riley), as well as Janet Jackson’s “Alright.”

Heavy D & the Boyz provided the theme song for Fox sketch comedy show “In Living Color,” and Myers landed a recurring role on sitcom “Roc.” While still releasing solid-selling and well-received records with the group — 1993’s gold-certified “Blue Funk” featured guest spots from then-largely-unknown rappers the Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes, while “Nuttin’ but Love” went platinum in 1994 — Myers began to branch out into further acting and label management ventures, serving as an A&R director and, briefly, president of Uptown. He also scored roles in the Laurence Fishburne-scripted Off Broadway play “Riff Raff” and sitcom “Living Single,” starring Queen Latifah.

In 1997, Myers released his first solo effort, “Waterbed Hev,” to a top 10 berth on the pop charts. The modest-selling “Heavy” followed in 1999, and the reggae-influenced “Vibes” was released in 2008.

Myers’ acting career also included roles in “The Cider House Rules,” “Boston Public,” “Life” and this year’s “Tower Heist.” Last month, Myers performed a medley of his hits at the BET Hip-Hop Awards, marking his first live performance in more than a decade.