Della Reese, ‘Touched by an Angel’ Star, Dies at 86

“She was an incredible wife, mother, grandmother, friend, and pastor,” says actress Roma Downey

Della Reese, the pop and jazz singing powerhouse who later starred as an angel sent by heaven on the television series “Touched By an Angel,” died Sunday evening at age 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 one-time co-star Roma Downey wrote in a 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.’ I know heaven has a brand new angel this day. Della Reese will be forever in our hearts.”

Reese and Downey shared the screen on the CBS inspirational drama “Touched by an Angel” for nine seasons from 1994 to 2003. For her role as Tess, the motherly angel who dispatched messengers to help people on earth in need of guidance, Reese earned two Emmy nominations, a Golden Globe nomination and seven NAACP Image Awards.

“We’re deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Della Reese,” CBS said in a statement sent to TheWrap. “She was a multi-talented, award-winning performer who shined brightly on soundstages and in concert halls. For nine years, we were privileged to have Della as part of the CBS family when she delivered encouragement and optimism to millions of viewers as Tess on ‘Touched By An Angel.’ We will forever cherish her warm embraces and generosity of spirit. She will be greatly missed. Another angel has gotten her wings.”

Born Delloreese Patricia Early on July 6, 1931, in Detroit, Reese’s career began as a jazz and R&B singer with hits including “And That Reminds Me,” “Not One Minute More” and “Don’t You Know?” which earned Reese her first of four Grammy nominations.

She later became the first black woman to host her own talk show with “Della” in 1969. Her other TV credits include “Chico and the Man,” “The Royal Family,” “It Takes Two” and “Charlie & Co.”

She is survived by her husband, Franklin Lett.