Della Reese, who is best known for playing Tess on Touched by an Angel, has passed away at age 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,” her co-star Roma Downey told People. 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.”

CBS also commented on the star’s passing. “We’re deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Della Reese,” the network said in a statement. “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.”

Reese was born Delloreese Patricia Early on July 6, 1931 in Detroit and began singing at just 6-years-old at her local church. By 13, she was chosen to perform with Mahalia Jackson’s gospel group. Following that, Reese started her own group called the Meditation Singers in the late 1940s. After familiarizing herself with jazz artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, Reese was signed to Jubilee Records in 1953 under her stage name. Fame finally hit in 1957 with her song “And That Reminds Me,” which became her first global seller.

Other famous songs from Reese include “Don’t You Know?” “Not One Minute More,” “And Now,” “Someday (You’ll Want Me to Want You),” and “The Most Beautiful Words.”

Reese expanded her career to the television screen in the late 1960s, when she appeared on The Mod Squad. She was featured on The Love BoatSanford and SonMacGyverNight Court, and The Young and the Restless before being cast in Touched by an Angel in 1994.

In 1969, Reese had her own variety series, Della, but it was canceled shortly thereafter. The following year, she became the first black woman to co-host The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. After an appearance on the show in 1979, Reese suffered a brain aneurysm that nearly took her life. In 1980, she became an ordained minister and then founded her own church, the Understanding Principles for Better Living, or UP Church.

Reese suffered various medical ailments later in life, and retired from acting in 2014. She is survived by her children JamesFranklin, and Dominique, as well as her husband Franklin Lett. Reese was predeceased by another daughter, Deloreese.

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