Della Reese, gospel singer/tv star has joined the angels, dead at 86

Della Reese

Della Reese, jazz/gospel/pop singer and star of CBS hit series Touched by an Angel passed away on Nov. 19 at the age of 86. Her impressive career spanned more than sixty years and covered many genres including entertainment, philanthropy and ministry projects.  She will be missed.

Health issues were said to have plagued her for the past few years, mostly associated with complications due to type 2 diabetes as reported in PEOPLE.

“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,” her costar Roma Downey confirmed to PEOPLE in an exclusive statement.

Reese was born in Detroit, Michigan and began singing in church when she was a child.  At 13, she joined Mahalia Jackson's gospel group, but she didn’t let her singing interfere with her studies.  She graduated from high school at only 15-years-old, becoming the first in her family to achieve that.

She created her own singing group called the Meditation Singers.  She started making the transition from gospel to jazz.  She was huge in the nightclub scene.  She had signed with Jubilee and recorded six albums featuring many beloved jazz standards with them. In 1959, she had a hit with single “Don’t You Know.”

TV and film pursuits came her way in the 60s.   She hosted her own talk show aptly titled Della and worked steadily as a guest star in shows such as The Mod Squad, The Love Boat and Sanford in Son.  She even was in an episode of The A Team playing B.A. Baracus’ (Mr. T) mother.  She starred in Harlem Nights with Redd Foxx and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate with Martin Lawrence.

In 1994, she landed her most famous acting role as Tess in the religious supernatural show Touched by an Angel that she would star in until 2003. She appeared in two episodes of  Sealed, Delivered in 2014 and then retired from acting.

She became an ordained minister in 1980s.

She is survived by children James, Franklin and Dominique, and husband Franklin Lett.

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Michelle Tompkins

Michelle Tompkins is an award-winning media, PR and crisis communications professional with more than ten years experience with coverage in virtually every traditional and new media outlet. She is currently a communications and media strategist and writer, as well as the author of College Prowler: Guidebook for Columbia University. She served as the Media Relations Manager for the Girl Scouts of the USA where she managed all media and talking points, created social media strategy, trained executives and donors and served as the organization’s primary spokesperson, participating in daily interviews with local, regional, and national media outlets. She managed the media for the Let Me Know internet safety and Cyberbullying prevention campaign with Microsoft, as well as Girl Scouts’ centennial Year of the Girl To Get Her There celebration in 2012, which yielded more than 800 million earned media impressions. In addition to her extensive media experience, Michelle worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles, California, as well contracting as a digital content developer and her writing has appeared in newspapers and online. She is passionate about television, theater, classic movies, all things food and in-home entertaining. While she has lived and worked in NYC for more than a decade, she is from suburban Sacramento and gets back there often to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV with her family.

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