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“Touched By An Angel” actress and music legend Della Reese passed away on Sunday, friends said in a statement to PEOPLE. She was 86.
“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. 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,” Reese’s “Touched by an Angel” co-star Roma Downey said in a statement to 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.”
Downey posted to Facebook on Friday, requesting that fans pray for Reese.
Before landing the role as Tess on “Touched by an Angel,” Reese was an accomplished singer who rose to national fame in 1957 with her song, “And That Reminds Me.” She had several other hits, including “Not One Minute More,” “And Now,” “Don’t You Know?” and “The Most Beautiful Words.”
When she made the move to television, Reese saw success in parts on series including “The Love Boat,” “MacGyver” and “The Young and the Restless.” She also had her own television variety hour called “Della” and was the first black woman to co-host “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” She went on to play Tess in “Touched by an Angel’s” 1994 debut and continued through the end of the series in 2003.
Reese had a near-death experience in 1979 when she suffered a brain aneurysm. The health scare lead her to found her own church, Understanding Principles for Better Living.
She is survived by her husband Franklin Lett and children James, Franklin and Dominique. Her daughter Deloreese Owens passed away in 2002.
The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.
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