Della Reese, singer and Touched by an Angel star, dies at 86

Della Reese | AP

She talks about the struggles in her early career (and such highlights as touring with Nat King Cole).

In an essay in the book "Touched by an Angel: Stories from the Hit Television Series", Reese said she had chose to return to the concert circuit and leave television behind when she was approached in her 60s about the series.

Her Touched By an Angel co-star Roma Downey said in a 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". No cause of death or additional details were provided.

"She was the first person that I had heard speak aloud what I believed inside", recalled Reese, a former Baptist who began singing in church at age 6.

She was greeted by a rousing chorus of "Good morning, Reverend Della", by her congregation of 175 that was housed in a Masonic temple hall just south of Hollywood. Lastly, she discusses the series for which she is most identified, Touched By An Angel, elaborating on the spiritual nature of the show, identifying memorable guest stars, and commenting on how CBS viewed the show.

"Through her life and work she touched and inspired the lives of millions of people", Downey's statement continued.

When she was 13, Reese snagged a gig with gospel legend Mahalia Jackson after another lyric soprano became pregnant and was unable to tour.

Before "Touched by an Angel" debuted in 1994, Ms. Reese had a long career headlining at major nightclubs, including the Copacabana in NY and the Cocoanut Grove in Hollywood, and a string of major recording successes. Rest In Peace, sweet angel. The story of an apprentice angel (Downey) and her supervisor (Ms. 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 gives you courage and courage gives you strength and strength gives you greater belief in your belief in God". Her music career took off from there. Starting in the late 1960s, Della Reese turned her attention to acting, with her first credited role coming in 1968 on an episode of The Mod Squad.

Though Reese was most famous for her role as a kindle and wise angel on the long-running CBS series, she had also enjoyed roles in Chico and the Man, Charlie and Company and The Royal Family and had even hosted her own talk show, Della. It's there that Reese shined brightly for nine seasons as the heavenly Tess, winning seven consecutive NAACP Image Awards as best lead actress in a drama, two Emmy nominations, and a 1998 Golden Globe nomination.

She is survived by her husband Franklin Lett, a film producer and concert promoter, per Variety. "Another angel has gotten her wings". We will forever cherish her warm embraces and generosity of spirit.

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