Della Reese, the gospel singer who later stared on the TV series Touched by an Angel, died at her home in California on Sunday, November 19. She was 86.
“She was an incredible wife, mother, grandmother, friend and pastor, as well as an award-winning actress and singer. Through her life and work she touched and inspired the lives of millions of people,” Reese’s costar Roma Downey said in a statement to Us Weekly on behalf of the late star’s family. “She was a mother to me and I had the privilege of working with her side by side for so many years on Touched by an Angel. I know heaven has a brand new angel this day. Della Reese will be forever in our hearts. Rest in peace, sweet angel. We love you.”
Reese began her decades-long career as a singer, performing at her local church in Detroit as a child before joining gospel singer Mahalia Jackson on tour as a teenager. She scored her first successful single with the 1957 ballad “And That Reminds Me,” and secured a contract with RCA Records soon after. She released her R&B hit “Don’t You Know?” in 1959 and followed up with a string of signature songs, including “Not One Minute More,” “Someday (You’ll Want Me to Want You)” and “The Most Beautiful Words.”
The multihyphenate broke into television in the late 1960s, appearing on shows such as The Mod Squad, The Love Boat, Chico and the Man, MacGyver and The Young and the Restless. Her variety show, Della, debuted in 1969, one year before she became the first-ever black woman to cohost The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.
Reese cemented her TV stardom in 1994 when she joined Touched by an Angel as the leading character and “supervising angel” Tess. The CBS series aired for nine seasons until 2003.
The actress, who was an ordained minister since the early ‘80s, announced her retirement in 2014. She suffered several health scares through the years, including a 1979 brain aneurysm during a taping of The Tonight Show. She also suffered from type 2 diabetes.
Reese is survived by her husband, film producer Franklin Lett, and her children James, Franklin and Dominique. She was predeceased by daughter Deloreese.
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