The writer, who was named Scottish Journalist of the Year twice, began his working life as a sub-editor on The Scotsman before turning to political journalism.
He went on to be the paper’s literary editor before becoming a columnist and leader writer for the Herald and Sunday Herald as well as writing freelance, including for The Scotsman.
Mr Bell won the Orwell Prize for political journalism in 1997 and he was named Columnist of the Year on several occasions.
His death was confirmed by Magnus Llewellin, editor-in-chief of the Herald and Times Group, who described the journalist as “a great writer and a lovely man”.
Mr Bell is survived by his wife Mandy and his son Sean.
In a statement, Sean Bell said: “Our family has lost a husband, a father and a son and Scotland has lost its finest journalist. He set a standard none shall ever reach again yet he inspired us to never stop trying.”
• READ MORE: Obituary: Ian Bell, journalist and author
Tributes flooded in on social media after news of his death emerged.
Playwright David Greig said on Twitter: “Oh this is so sad. Such a loss. Thoughts to all friends and colleagues. It seems such a small consideration in the face of grief, but if ever we needed Ian Bell’s voice and writing, it is in Scotland now.”
Journalist Kevin McKenna said: “Am distraught at the passing of Ian Bell. He was quite simply the best at what the rest of us try to do… and the most gentle and humble.”
Solicitor Mike Dailly of the Govan Law Centre said: “Very sorry to hear Ian Bell. He was an insightful and thoughtful columnist and I enjoyed reading his opinions.”
Broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli said: “The Scottish Columnist of the Year was affectionately known as the Ian Bell Prize, he won it that often.”
Writing in the Herald, Mr Llewellin said: “Ian was a great writer and, more importantly, a great man.
“His was a vital voice in the national conversation but, more than that, he was a man of profound depth with a hinterland in literature, history and the arts, as demonstrated by the many awards he won as a journalist and author.
“Our thoughts are with his family and his many, many friends.”
His death comes just days after Scotland lost another celebrated writer, the author William McIlvanney, at the age of 79.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wrote on Twitter: “We have lost Willie McIlvanney and Ian Bell in just one week. Too much.”