Rita Owens, mother of Queen Latifah, dies from heart failure

Throughout all of the steps of her career, Queen Latifah’s mother, Rita Owens, stood beside her. Today, Queen Latifah, whose birth name is Dana Owens, said goodbye to her biggest inspiration in an announcement that her mother passed after years of battling heart failure.

On Monday, Latifah thanked well-wishers in an Instagram post for leaving positive messages in hopes of her mother’s recovery.

In a rapid turn of events, earlier today, Latifah sent the following statement to PEOPLE:

Anyone that has ever met her knows what a bright light she was on this earth. She was gentle, but strong, sweet, but sassy, worldly but pragmatic, a woman of great faith and certainly the love of my life.

She had struggled with a heart condition for many years and her battle is now over. I am heartbroken but know she is at peace. Thank you for your kindness, support and respect for our privacy at this time. Much Love, Dana Owens (aka Queen Latif‎ah), forever Rita Owens’ daughter.

Ms. Owens, a teacher in Newark, NJ for decades, has been noted for her tireless work with youth in the city. She mentored thousands of students and worked with countless programs and initiatives. A committed educator, Latifah recognized her mother’s dedicated service on her daytime show years ago.

Ms. Owens was diagnosed with heart failure in 2014, yet had no history of drinking, smoking or being overweight. During the course of her illness, Latifah and Ms. Owens joined the American Heart Association’s Rise Above Heart Failure movement that promoted healthy heart awareness.

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