Former US First Lady Betty Ford died at the age of 93, drawing tributes for her inspiring role notably in helping treat drug and alcohol addicts at her California-based health center.

The widow of president Gerald Ford, who died in 2006, was also hailed for campaigning for breast cancer awareness and was outspoken on women's rights issues.

"Throughout her long and active life (Ford) distinguished herself through her courage and compassion. As our nation?s First Lady, she was a powerful advocate for women?s health and women?s rights," said President Barack Obama.

"After leaving the White House, Mrs. Ford helped reduce the social stigma surrounding addiction and inspired thousands to seek much-needed treatment," he added in a statement.

And he added: "While her death is a cause for sadness, we know that organizations such as the Betty Ford Center will honor her legacy by giving countless Americans a new lease on life."

Vice President Joseph Biden said he believed Betty Ford's work would live on "through the millions of lives she has touched" and many more people who will continue to look to her for inspiration.

Ford died Friday evening with family at her bedside, according to a family member cited by CNN. Former president George H.W. Bush said he and his wife Barbara "loved Betty Ford very much."

"She was a wonderful wife and mother; a great friend; and a courageous First Lady. No one confronted life's struggles with more fortitude or honesty, and as a result, we all learned from the challenges she faced.

Elizabeth "Betty" Ford turned her battles with two devastating illnesses -- breast cancer and drug and alcohol addiction -- into triumph as she overcame them and went on to help others follow suit.

Speaking openly about her fight with breast cancer and her dependence on prescription drugs and alcohol, Ford removed much of the stigma attached to both illnesses and aided others who were battling the same demons.

She notably helped create the renowned Betty Ford Center for alcohol and drug rehabilitation in Rancho Mirage, California, where tens of thousands have been treated since 1982.

Born Elizabeth Ann Bloomer on April 8, 1918 in Chicago, Ford, one of three children, grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and studied dance at Bennington College in Vermont.

She divorced her first husband, William Warren, after five years, and began dating then-Navy lieutenant Gerald Ford a short time later. The couple married on October 15, 1948, just two weeks before Gerald Ford was elected to Congress.

They lived in the Washington area for nearly three decades, as he climbed up the political ladder from the US Capitol to the White House.

Ford, who entered the White House after the resignation of Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal, died on December 26, 2006, also at the age of 93.

Fellow former first lady Nancy Reagan said of Betty Ford: "She has been an inspiration to so many through her efforts to educate women about breast cancer and her wonderful work at the Betty Ford Center.

"She was Jerry Ford's strength through some very difficult days in our country?s history, and I admired her courage in facing and sharing her personal struggles with all of us," added the widow of president Ronald Reagan.

Obama added: "Today, we take comfort in the knowledge that Betty and her husband .. are together once more. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to their children, Michael, John, Steven, and Susan.