Playwright JOHN BELLUSO - a strong advocate for the rights of the disabled - has been found dead in his Manhattan hotel room.

The cause of the 36-year-old's death is under investigation, but authorities say foul play is not suspected.

Belluso's body was found on Friday (10FEB06). He suffered from the bone disease Engleman-Camurdrie Syndrome and spent his days confined to a wheelchair.

He rose to fame writing plays which challenged disabled stereotypes, including THE BODY OF BOURNE - about a World War I pacifist and writer disfigured by childhood spinal tuberculosis - PYRETOWN and The Poor Itch.

Oskar Eustis, artistic director of New York's Public Theater says, "John was an incredibly important writer, both in his own right, and as a leading advocate for writers and artists with disabilities.

"It's a terrible, terrible loss."

Belluso is survived by his mother and two sisters.