Touched by an Angel star Della Reese dies aged 86

Tuesday, 21 November 2017, 01:09:22 PM. Actress and gospel singer Della Reese, best known for her role in television series Touched by an Angel, dies at the age of 86.

Della Reese looks at Roma Downey in a scene from Touched by an Angel. Photo: Della Reese (left) was best known for her role in television series Touched by an Angel. (Supplied: CBS)

Actress and gospel singer Della Reese, best known for her role in television series Touched by an Angel, has died aged 86 at her home in California, her family said.

The actress "passed away peacefully at her California home surrounded by love" on Sunday, her husband Franklin Lett and her family said in a statement.

The statement was posted on the family's behalf by Reese's co-star Roma Downey on her Instagram page.

"Through her life and work she touched and inspired the lives of millions of people," the statement said.

No cause of death was given, but Reese suffered from diabetes, which was diagnosed about 17 years ago.

Detroit-born Reese was trained as a gospel singer, and first found fame in the late 1950s and early 1960s with pop and jazz hits like Don't You Know.

External Link: YouTube: Don't You Know by Della Reese

First African-American woman to host a talk show

By 1969, she had her own talk show Della — the first to be hosted by an African-American woman.

She then landed roles in shows like It Takes Two and Crazy Like a Fox.

But her biggest part was her role as sarcastic supervisor angel Tess on supernatural CBS TV series Touched By An Angel, which ran for nine years until 2003.

The show's first season brought mediocre ratings, but its audience grew until it became one of TV's highest-rated dramas.

Reese also sang the show's title song Walk With You.

External Link: YouTube: Touched by an Angel opening

In 1997, she went public with a salary complaint, claiming CBS had reneged that season on an agreement to match her Touched by An Angel pay increases to those of Downey.

CBS said at the time it was "puzzled" by her comments.

"I'm trying not to believe it's because I'm black, 'cause I was black when they hired me," Reese said at the time.

"They knew what age I was … I don't know what it is."

Reese complained of typecasting

Reese's other TV and movie roles included Beauty Shop, That's So Raven, MacGyver, The A Team, LA Law, Harlem Nights, Promised Land and The Royal Family.

In her 1997 autobiography, Angels Along the Way, Reese complained she had difficulty avoiding being typecast for roles before Touched by an Angel.

"There were usually only three types I was ever considered for — the singer, the aunt or the mother [or] neighbour," she said.

"God knows how I wanted to break out of those three categories and show what else I could do as an actress."

In the late 1980s, Reese started a church from her Los Angeles living room.

The church, called Understanding Principles for Better Living, known as UP, later moved to its own facilities and Reese became known as The Reverend Dr Della Reese Lett.

External Link: Roma Downey's Instagram post

Reuters/AP

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