Della Reese, the music legend and star of Touched by an Angel, has died, a rep for Reese’s Touched by an Angel co-star Roma Downey confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 86.
“On behalf of her husband, Franklin Lett, and all her friends and family, I share with you the news that our beloved Della Reese has passed away peacefully at her California home last evening surrounded by love,” the statement reads.
“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. 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.”
People was first to report Reese’s death.
“People need something to help them with their lives,” Reese said in a 2008 interview with the Archive of American Television. “In Touched by an Angel, we didn’t tell you what to do. If you were distraught and at a place where you felt there was nothing else to do, we would make a suggestion: ‘Did you ever think about it like this? It doesn’t have to be that way. You can change your mind and change your life.’ It gave people at home, in the privacy of their homes, a chance to know that they too, could change their minds and change their life.”
Reese was was born Delloreese Patricia Early on July 6, 1931, in Detroit. With a strong love for music and film, Reese’s career first blossomed during her gig as a singer alongside the legendary Mahalia Jackson’s. From there, she landed a record deal and released her first record in 1957; “And That Reminds Me.” With her resounding vocals compared to Ella Fitzgerald, Reese crossed over after the release of “Don’t You Know” and the EP titled, Della in 1960.
Variety adds Reese also made history as the first African-American woman to host a daytime talk show in 1969.
While her music was always appreciated by fans, Reese went on to try her hand at acting. Her first gig included The Mod Squad in 1968 and later found fanfare in Chico and the Man. A string of TV guest spots soon followed but fans know Della best due to her role as Tess on Touched by an Angel. After its cancellation in the 1994-95 season, fans demanded its return and it became a hit for CBS, lasting nine seasons.
After walking away from TV over her constant health battles, Reese became a pastor at her church called The Understanding Principles for Better Living.
Reese’s work was celebrated on social media Monday (Nov. 20) by fans.
Yesterday a demon was pulled down to hell and today an Angel returned to Heaven. RIP #DellaReese
— Erin_23 ?❤️ (@misserin_23) November 20, 2017
RIP Della Reese and thank you for this ICONIC moment on That’s So Raven ?? pic.twitter.com/wYZj5fntAP
— free bread eater ? (@jarriaun) November 20, 2017
— Julie Shera (@Bothered_Blonde) November 20, 2017
I used to enjoy watching Della Reese’s talk/variety show in the 60s, Sandy Baron was her sidekick. Rest In Peace.
— Frank Conniff (@FrankConniff) November 20, 2017
To most of us, she’ll be remembered as our favorite auntie. She is survived by her husband Franklin Lett.
A portion of this story was originally published on The Hollywood Reporter.