“It is with a heavy heart that I share the news my mother, Rita Owens, passed away today,” she revealed. “Anyone that has ever met her know what a bright light she was on earth. She was gentle, but strong, sweet, but sassy, worldly, but pragmatic, a woman of great faith and certainly the love of my life.”
Owens had struggled with a heart condition “for many years,” as Latifah noted in the statement. “Her battle is now over,” she wrote. “I am heartbroken but know she is at peace. Thank you for your kindness, support and respect for our privacy at this time.”
Owens was an almost constant companion of her daughter’s throughout her career, and appeared in Living Single, as Latifah’s character (Khadijah James’) mother.
Owens was diagnosed with heart failure in 2004 after passing out at work and being rushed to the hospital. The diagnoses prompted Latifah and her mother to join forces with the American Heart Association to help educate people on heart disease, which remains the number one killer of women across the globe, and affects black women at a growing rate. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease kills more than 50,000 black women per year.