Della Reese, 'Touched by an Angel' star dead at 86

Music legend and Touched By An Angel star Della Reese has died aged 86

Music legend and Touched By An Angel star Della Reese has died aged 86

Reese, the actress and gospel-influenced singer who in middle age found her greatest fame as Tess, the wise angel in the long-running television drama "Touched by an Angel", died at age 86.

Reese was mourned in a touching tribute by her "Angel" co-star Roma Downey, who said the star was "like a mother to me".

"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".

"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, " CBS told the outlet. "I know heaven has a brand new angel this day", continued Downey in her statement. Della Reese will be forever in our hearts. Her life was hard at times with illness and loss; but her cup was never ½ empty... and it wasn't half full... it was overflowing with goodness and love for everyone.

Reese expanded her resume with roles on TV shows like "Chico and the Man", "Welcome Back, Kotter", "It Takes Two" and "The A-Team", and in movies opposite stars like Redd Foxx and Martin Lawrence. She also suffered from type II diabetes. At the early age of 13, she was selected to sing with famed gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Reese was nominated for four Grammy Awards throughout her career.

A portrait of Della Reese circa 1970. The story of an apprentice angel (Roma Downey) and her supervisor (Reese) being sent to Earth to solve people's problems appeared to have little chance in a TV world dominated by sitcoms and police dramas. "It was a marvelous place to work", she said later of the hit CBS drama that ran from 1994 to 2003. "It was very obvious to me I was the first black woman with her own show when one executive told me they had a hard time finding sponsors because my gums were blue".

From 1996 to 1998, she recurred in Promised Land, an Angel spin-off that starred Gerald McRaney.

She is survived by her husband Franklin Lett, a film producer and concert promoter, per Variety.