Della Reese: RIP

An American singer and television star who owed a second chance at life to a London surgeon has died.

Della Reese, the actress and gospel-influenced singer who in middle age found her greatest fame as Tess, the wise angel in the long-running television drama “Touched by an Angel,” has died at age 86.

A family representative released a statement Monday that Reese died peacefully Sunday evening in California. No cause of death or additional details were provided.

Before “Touched by an Angel” debuted in 1994, Reese was mainly known as a singer, although she had co-starred on “Chico and the Man,” “Charlie and Company” and “The Royal Family” and hosted her own talk show, “Della.”

She appeared on numerous shows such as “Night Court,” ”L.A. Law” and ”Designing Women,“ but wrote in her 1997 autobiography that she had difficulty being typecast until she landed her “Touched by an Angel” role.

In 1979, Reese collapsed on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show from a potentially fatal brain aneurysm.

Her medical advisers felt the best place for her was in the hands of Charles Drake, a London doctor who had pioneered life-saving brain aneurysm surgery at University Hospital. Drake operated on her for five hours.

The success of the procedure prompted Reese to perform a benefit concert for the hospital a year later. Reese credited Drake with saving her life and eyesight.

Drake, chief of neurosurgery at University Hospital and the department of clinical neurological sciences at the University of Western Ontario, died Sept. 15, 1998.

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