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Touched by an Angel's Della Reese Dead at 86

The actress and singer was the first black woman to host a talk show

Liam Mathews

Singer, actress and spiritual leader Della Reese died Sunday night at her home in California, Variety reports. The Touched by an Angel star was 86.

"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," actress Roma Downey, Reese's Touched By an Angel co-star, said in a statement announcing Reese's death. "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."

Reese began her entertainment career as an R&B singer, and she had a No. 1 R&B and No. 2 Pop hit with her song "Don't You Know?" in 1959. She received four Grammy nominations over the course of her career.

By 1969, she was a big enough star to get her own talk show, Della, which ran for 197 episodes in 1969 and 1970. She was the first black woman to have her own talk show.

She took her first full-time acting role in 1975 on the sitcom Chico and the Man. She guest-starred on numerous shows, including Sanford and Son, The A-Team and Night Court and appeared in numerous TV movies before landing her signature TV role in 1994 as Tess on the faith-based drama series Touched by an Angel.

Reese earned two Supporting Actress Emmy nominations for her role as angelic supervisor Tess on the CBS drama, which ran for nine seasons from 1994 to 2003. She also performed the show's theme song, "Walk With You."

In later years, she went even deeper into religion, founding her own church, Understanding Principles for Better Living (or "Up"), in Los Angeles.

Reese was born Delloreese Patricia Early on July 6, 1931 in Detroit. She is survived by her husband Franklin Lett.

Della Reese

Della Reese

Amanda Edwards, Getty Images