Della Reese who segued from pop and jazz singing stardom in the ‘50s and ‘60s to a long career as a popular TV actress on “Touched by an Angel” and other shows, died Sunday night at her home in California. She was 86.
“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,” actress Roma Downey, Reese’s co-star on “Touched By an Angel,” said in a statement announcing Reese’s death. “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.”
By the time “Touched by an Angel” moved into reruns, Reese, an ordained minister since the early ‘80s, was increasingly focused on her religious work, with TV and film appearances largely restricted to guest shots. She announced her retirement from performing in 2014.
Throughout her long career, Reese proved indomitable in the face of serious health crises. In 1979, she suffered a brain aneurysm during a taping of “The Tonight Show,” and weathered two brain surgeries. She collapsed on the set of “Touched by an Angel” in 2002, and later announced she suffered from type 2 diabetes.
Reese’s four marriages included a brief, annulled union with Mercer Ellington, son of jazz great Duke Ellington. She is survived by her husband Franklin Lett, a film producer and concert promoter.