'Touched by an Angel' Star Della Reese Dies at 86, Actors Praise Exemplary Life

Della Reese
Della Reese, the late pastor and "Touched by an Angel" star died on Sunday November 19, 2017. She was 86. |

Pastor and actress Della Reese known for her iconic role as Tess in the popular 1990s CBS television series "Touched by an Angel" died peacefully at her home Sunday. She was 86.

Her co-star, Roma Downey, who played the role of a kind-hearted angel named Monica in the series broke the news in a statement on behalf of Reese's family Monday.

"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 surrounded by love," Downey wrote.

"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. Rest in Peace, sweet angel. We love you." 

CBS said the network was "saddened" by her death.

"We're deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Della Reese. For 9 years, we were privileged to have Della as part of the CBS family," the network said in a statement.

Reese's manager, Lynda Bensky, did not identify the cause of her death but told The New York Times that she suffered from diabetes.

Reese enjoyed some success as a singer starting in 1957 when she had her first big hit record, the romantic ballad "And That Reminds Me," according to The New York Times.

It wasn't until she was cast in the role of Tess in "Touched by an Angel" in 1994, however, that she went on to become a household name with the show's popularity.

Reese has been an ordained minister in the Universal Foundation for Better Living since the 1980s and founded the Understanding Principles for Better Living Church where she preached for many years.

Her faith loomed large in her career and she reportedly told The Chicago Tribune in 1996 that when she asked God about "Touched by an Angel" before she signed on, God approved it.

"As clearly as I hear you," she said, "I heard Him say: 'You can do this. I want you to do this, and you can retire in 10 years.'"

Reese didn't retire in 10 years. After nine successful seasons on the show she continued to act for another decade after that.

As news of her death spread Monday, many celebrities who knew Reese shared thoughts on how she impacted their faith.

Actress Jackée Harry ‏said it was Reese who taught her the "power of prayer."

"I am completely devastated by the loss of Della Reese. She was a great co-star, sparring partner, drinking buddy, and friend. She taught me the power of prayer and the importance of humility. I'll be forever grateful to call her my friend," Harry said in a statement on Twitter.

"Saddened to learn about the passing of the iconic Della Reese. She not only played my TV Grandmother. She also was a part of my spiritual growth early on in my life. Grateful for all she taught me and my family. Prayers to Della's loved ones and fans. #DellaReese #LoveYou," wrote actor Larenz Tate.

In a nod to the most famous role of Reese's career, actress Cicely Tyson‏ said she was indeed "God's angel on earth."

"#DellaReese was truly God's angel on earth. She taught us grace, generosity and humility through her daily actions. Good and faithful servant well done my friend, well done. #RIP" Tyson wrote on Twitter.

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