Fats, whose real name was Rudolph Wolderone, would have been 83 today, his wife, Theresa, said. He had been ill since suffering a heart attack in 1992 but continued to make appearances at pool tournaments, most recently last July.
His heyday at the pool table was between the 1930s and the 1960s. He was first known as "New York Fats" then as "Minnesota Fats" because of Gleason's portrayal in the 1961 film starring Paul Newman.
Gleason's depiction brought Fats his own television show, where he played pool against celebrities. He also made many other national television appearances, mostly against another pool star, Willie Mosconi, who died in 1993.
His widow said Fats liked the movie but disliked Gleason's portrayal of him as smoking and drinking while playing. He never drank or smoked.
Gleason, who died in 1987, made many of his own pool shots in the film, for which he was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actor.