Legendary actress Della Reese, who transitioned from R&B stardom and then into a long acting career for shows such as Touched By An Angel and films such as the classic Harlem Nights, died on Sunday (November 20) at her home in California. She was 86.
Reese, born Deloreese Patricia Early, began her career in the late 1950s working with the great Mahalia Jackson during her teens. She landed a signature with her hit "Don't You Know" in 1959, which appeared on her 1960 album, Della. In that year, Reese segued careers and started acting. She hosted a talk/variety show titled Della, which was the first of its kind to be hosted by a black woman. The show ran for nearly 200 episodes before its cancellation in March 1970. She also became the first black woman to guest host The Tonight Show. From there, she ventured into sitcom and drama series, including 227, The Royal Family, The Mod Squad, Police Woman, McCloud, Night Court, and Designing Women to name a few.
Her most famous role came in 1994, when she took on the role of the "supervising angel" in the hit CBS drama Touched By An Angel. Reese earned two Emmy nominations for the role, as well as Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild noms during the series' nine-season run. The show ended in 2003.
But her most famous role in the black community was Harlem Nights, the 1989 film where she starred alongside comedy legends Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Redd Foxx. Della Reese played Vera, a feisty woman who ran a brothel in the back of a nightclub ran by Pryor and Murphy's characters.
"For nine years, we were privileged to have Della as part of the CBS family when she delivered encouragement and optimism to millions of viewers as Tess on 'Touched By An Angel,' " CBS said in a statement. "We will forever cherish her warm embraces and generosity of spirit. She will be greatly missed. Another angel has gotten her wings."