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," died at age 86. Picture: AP

Della Reese died at her home in California at the age of 86, surrounded by "love".

The legendary singer and actress passed away at her home in California on Sunday surrounded by "love".

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Her 'Touched By an Angel' co-star Roma Downey said in a statement: "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. 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."

Della's love of singing started at a young age when she would sing at her local church at just six years of age. And by 13-years-old, she was asked to perform with Mahalia Jackson's gospel group, who she later toured with.

From there, she joined the Meditation Singers and later signed a deal with Jubilee Records, where she released an impressive five albums of jazz music. However, it wasn't until 1957 and the release of her track 'And That Reminds Me' where her fame catapulted, with the song making the top 20 in the charts.

Following this was a number of acting roles but most famously, she starred in 'Touched By an Angel' for nearly a decade.

Della is survived by her husband Franklin Lett and her children James, Franklin and Dominique.