Della Reese, Music Icon And ‘Touched By An Angel’ Star, Dead At 86

Della Reese, a music legend known for her beloved character on “Touched by an Angel,” has died at the age of 86.

Reese’s costar Roma Downey sent People a statement confirming that Reese had died in her California home on Sunday.

Harry Langdon via Getty Images
Della Reese in 1990
“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. 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,” Downey said in the statement.

“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,” she continued. “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.”

Downey also shared a version of the statement on Instagram.

Born Delloreese Patricia Early, the star is survived by her husband and four children.

The vocalist, born in Detroit, began performing at just 13 with Mahalia Jackson’s gospel group. Reese later formed her own group, the Meditation Singers, but eventually branched out into a solo jazz career. Reese is best known for her 1957 top 20 hit “And That Reminds Me,” as well as “Not One Minute More,” “And Now” and “Don’t You Know?”

She began her onscreen career in the 1960s when she had guest spots on “The Love Boat,” “Sanford and Son” and “The Young and the Restless.” In 1968, she became the first black woman to co-host “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” She also hosted a short-lived variety series, “Della.” Her most well-known role, however, was as the heaven-sent angel Tess on “Touched By an Angel.” The show ran from 1994 to 2003.  

Reese experienced a series of health issues throughout her career. In 1979, she had a brain aneurysm during a taping of “The Tonight Show” and went on to have two brain surgeries. In 2002, she collapsed on the set of “Touched by an Angel” and later announced that she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

A cause of death was not immediately available.

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