Though she hasn't been a part of many television shows in the past 15 years or so, the prolific actress and singer Della Reese will forever be remembered for her work on the hit CBS drama Touched by an Angel. Sadly, we won't get to see her taking on any new roles in the future, as Reese passed away this weekend at the age of 86.
News of Della Reese's death was shared by her former Touched by an Angel co-star Roma Downey, with full consent from her family and husband Franklin Lett. While a cause of death wasn't disclosed, it appears Reese passed away in her California home on Sunday night with friends and family surrounding her. We certainly hope that things were as peaceful as they could be. Below you can read Downey's statement, as shared with 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.
While Touched by an Angel may be her biggest claim to fame for TV audiences, it was hardly Della Reese's only claim to fame. Born in 1931 as Delloreese Early, she was quite fond of acting and singing in her early years, shortening her name whenever she started performing in clubs upon entering adulthood. She first struck it big in the 1950s, transitioning from gospel music to jazz, pop and R&B, and she kept her successful and music career going for many decades afterward, earning several Grammy nominations along the way.
Back in 1968, Della Reese had her first TV role with an appearance on The Mod Squad, and that next year, she became the first black woman to host her own TV talk show, simply titled Della. She later landed her first co-starring role in the Freddie Prinze sitcom Chico and the Man, which she followed up with appearances on a bevy of hit series, such as The Love Boat, Night Court, MacGyver, Designing Women and L.A. Law, to name but a few.
It was just after those latter appearances that Della Reese signed on for her most iconic role, Touched by an Angel's Tess. As the brusque and snarky supervisor to Roma Downey's angel Monica, Tess factored heavily into each week's storyline, and it was always obvious that her somewhat gruff exterior was covering up a very loving devotion to Monica. Reese portrayed Tess for nine seasons (1994-2003) and 211 episodes, which is a major accomplishment for any TV series and its stars. She won seven Image Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and she was also nominated for her Tess portrayal by both the Emmy Awards and the Golden Globes.
So beloved is Della Reese for her work on Touched by an Angel that CBS even released a statement about her passing.
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.
From 1996-1998, Della Reese also made a handful of appearances on the Touched by an Angel spinoff Promised Land, and later showed up for episodes of That's So Raven and The Young and the Restless, among other shows. And though she didn't have any other series regular roles after Tess, Reese also kept her small screen career strong with a variety of TV films over the years, starring in no less than 20 between 1973 and 2013.
We at CinemaBlend send our thoughts and condolences to the family and friends (and former co-stars) of Della Reese in their time of mourning. Join us in listening to her jazzy and soulful performances throughout the day.