LOS ANGELES—Singer and star of the TV series “Touched by an Angel,” Della Reese died Sunday of natural causes at her Los Angeles home. She was 86.
Reese was born in the Black Bottom neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan. She began singing in her church choir at a young age and at the age of 13, she joined Mahalia Jackson’s gospel group. In 1957, Reese released “And That Reminds Me,” her first Top 20 hit song. She later signed to RCA Records and began releasing multiple singles which quickly reached the top of the charts.
After more than 20 years singing professionally, Reese began a shift towards acting in 1969. She was the first black woman to co-host Johnny Carson’s iteration of “The Tonight Show.” She acted in a variety of guest and secondary roles until she auditioned for the seminal role of Tess for the CBS’s hit television drama, “Touched by an Angel” alongside Roma Downey. The show ran for 211 episodes and nine seasons until concluding in 2003. Reese was nominated twice for a Primetime Emmy Award over the course of the show’s run. In 1994, she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Though appearing in various programs on-and-off since “Touched by an Angel’s” end, Reese officially retired from acting in 2014. According to reports, the actress suffered from diabetes near the end of her life and occasionally used a wheelchair to get around.
Reese is survived by her three children and her husband. Reese’s representative, Lynda Bensky, told USA Today, “We lost a magnificent woman who was a trailblazer in many ways.”