Here is some sad news, especially for those who loved Touched By an Angel. Della Reese died at the age of 86 on Sunday, Nov. 19, People reported Monday. A cause of death remains unclear at this point in time. Her former co-star, Roma Downey, confirmed Reese's death to the outlet in a lengthy and touching statement. "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," Downey said.
Her statement about her late friend continued, "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 also added, "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."
In addition to her role as Tess on the hit CBS series that ran for nine seasons and earned her a Golden Globe nomination and seven NAACP Image Awards, Reese was also known for her musical abilities. According to Variety, after signing with Jubilee Records, she recorded the hit 1957 ballad "And That Reminds Me," which was her first chart success. The song also scored her a RCA contract, which then found Reese producing her "biggest hit of her career," per Variety, "Don't You Know".
She eventually transitioned from the music industry over to the acting world. According to IMDb, her first acting role was in The Mod Squad in 1968. From that moment forward, Reese starred and had appearances in a variety of classic TV series, including Police Woman, McCloud, Chico and the Man, Welcome Back, Kotter, The Love Boat, and Sanford and Son, on which she played herself. Speaking of the latter, in the memorable episode in which Reese appeared, she and Red Foxx (Fred Sanford) sang "Ease on Down the Road" together.
She also had her own talk show, Della, which lasted for three years. It was also the first talk show hosted by an African-American woman, per Variety. In other amazing achievements, she was even the first black woman to fill in as a guest host on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, according to E! News.
According to People, Reese battled many health problems, including diabetes. After appearing twice on Hallmark's Signed, Sealed, Delivered in 2014, Reese decided to retire from acting. She is survived by her children, James, Franklin, and Dominique, in addition to her husband. In 2002, her 42-year-old daughter, Deloreese Daniels Ownes, died. Reese opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about it and said, "You're not supposed to bury your children, your children are supposed to bury you."
In 2008, Reese chatted with the Archive of American Television (via THR) about Touched By an Angel and why it was such a special show. She said,
"People need something to help them with their lives. 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."
CBS also released a statement (via THR) in response to Reese's death. It read in part, "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."
There's no denying Reese made a great impact on the lives of many — and will continue to do just that.