Cantalupo, a 28-year veteran of the fast food giant, died unexpectedly of a heart attack today aged 60 while attending a McDonald's international owner and operator convention in Orlando, Florida.
Bell, who was president and chief operating officer of McDaondald's, takes over with immediate effect.
In a statement Andrew J McKenna, presiding director of the company's board, said: "Jim was a brilliant man who brought tremendous leadership, energy and passion to his job. He made an indelible mark on McDonald's system."
He added: "Charlie Bell has worked side by side with Jim during these past 16 months to revitalise McDonald's all over the world. He is ideally suited and prepared to continue Jim's remarkable focus and discipline on our business."
Cantalupo emerged from retirement to be named chairman and CEO in January 2003 after a major management shake-up as the fast food giant faced up to health-conscious consumers turning away from its fatty foods.
He replaced the ousted Jack Greenberg, who went in late 2002 as he took the blame for falling sales and lawsuits from obese people claiming the company was to blame for their unhealthy lifestyles.
Greenberg, another veteran, had been with the company for 21 years. Cantalupo was the former president and vice-chairman of the company.
When he returned from retirement he said that he planned to visit McDonald's restaurants incognito to experience first-hand the problems that were driving customers away.
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