Remembering Actress, Singer & Minister Della Reese

(Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images)

Singer and long-time actress Della Reese thrilled audiences for decades in shows like Touched By an Angel and movies like Harlem Nights. The curtain closed on her long life in November 2017 when died at age 86.

She left behind children James, Franklin, and Dominique, as well as husband Franklin Lett. She was predeceased by daughter Deloreese.

“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.

“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.”

Reese began singing in church in her hometown of Detroit when she was six years old. Her vocal ability quickly attracted the attention of gospel great Mahalia Jackson, who hired Della as a back-up singer. This early introduction to the world of gospel entertainment set the stage for Della’s own music legacy that has now spanned five decades and includes multiple Grammy Award nominations.

Even though she lived this long, when she was born, her doctors never thought she would make it this far.

“My mother was a personal friend of God’s. I lived on her faith. I was trained on her faith. For example, I was born in 1931, in the middle of a depression. Two years later I had rheumatic fever and they told my mother I was going to die—I was not a well child. My mother just stood on her faith and trusted in God and kept saying, ‘My baby’s going to live.'”

(Della Reese 2014 vs. 2016 / Photo credit:

Back in 2003, Reese told USA Today that it was her hope to maintain control of her diabetes so that she could continue to live well.

“My life is at stake,” she reportedly said in 2016 at a Hollywood Walk of Fame event. “I don’t have type 2 diabetes — type 2 diabetes has me.” Reese stepped out to celebrate Touched by an Angel cast member…