Actor and former Republican senator Fred Thompson has died aged 73, his family have said.

Thompson, who starred in Law & Order and Die Hard II as well as being a senator in Tennessee, died on Sunday in Nashville after a battle with lymphoma.

'It is with a heavy heart and a deep sense of grief that we share the passing of our brother, father and grandfather who died peacefully Nashville surrounded by his family,' a statement from his family said.

The heartfelt statement continued: 'Fred once said that the experiences he had growing up in small-town Tennessee formed the prism through which he viewed the world and shaped the way he dealt with life.

'Fred stood on principle and common sense, and had a deep love for and connection with the people across Tennessee whom he had the privilege to serve in the United States Senate.

'He enjoyed a hearty laugh, a strong handshake, a good cigar, and a healthy dose of humility. Fred was the same man on the floor of the Senate, the movie studio, or the town square of Lawrenceburg, his home.

'Fred believed that the greatness of our nation was defined by the hard work, faith, and honesty of its people. He had an enduring belief in the exceptionalism of our country, and that America could provide the opportunity for any boy or girl, in any corner of our country, to succeed in life.'

Thompson, a lawyer, alternated between politics and acting much of his adult life.

He was best known on screen for playing District Attorney Arthur Branch on Law & Order for five seasons, before leaving the show to run for President in 2007.