Northern Irish-born actress Roma Downey was best remembered while playing Monica (1994-2003), a sweet and tender apprentice angel under angelic Tess’ (played by Della Reese) supervision, on CBS high-rated drama "Touched By an Angel." She was previously popular as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the 1991 USA TV movie A Woman Named Jackie and as the Amazon leader in the syndicated Hercules and the Amazon Women (1994). She also gained notice for starring in the highly sentimental made-for-TV movies A Child Is Missing (1995), Borrowed Hearts (1997) and Monday After the Miracle (1998), in which she portrayed Helen Keller’s teacher Annie Sullivan. In the comedy genre, she starred in the TV movies Second Honeymoon and Sons of Mistletoe (both in 2001). After her "Touched By an Angel" stint ended, Downey landed a recurring role on the popular Lifetime cop drama "The Division" and co-starred opposite Matthew Modine and Seth Adkins, in the amusing, darkly comic family movie Funky Monkey (2004).
The 5' 4" tall, dark-haired actress was one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World” in 1997. She has divorced twice and is currently engaged to two-time Emmy-winning producer Mark Burnett (born 17 July 1960), who has created such popular reality shows as “The Apprentice” and “Survivor.”
Childhood and Family:
In a working-class area of Derry City, County Derry, Northern Ireland, UK, Roma Downey was born on May 6, 1960. Her name originates from both her grandmother's names, Rose and Mary. The youngest of six children, Roma has four older siblings from her father’s side: John (a Roman Catholic priest), Patrick Jr., Ann Flood, and Jacinta McLaughlin, and one older brother, Lawrence, from her mother’s side. Her mother, Maureen (homemaker), died of heart attack when Roma was 10, and her father, Patrick "Paddy" (was a schoolteacher) died in 1985.
On losing her mother, Roma said: "It was devastating. One day she was there and the next she was gone."
As a child, Roma learned to play the piano, but can no longer play. She also studied Irish dancing. She attended a Catholic convent school and then studied painting at Brighton College, England, where she earned a bachelor's degree in 1984. She later signed up with London Drama Studio, Ealing, England, where she was awarded Most Promising Student of the Year when she graduated.
In 1987, Roma eloped and married her American classmate, Leland Orser, in a Roman Catholic ceremony in Rome, Italy. They moved to New York City and later divorced in 1989. On a blind date in 1994, Roma met producer David Anspaugh (of “Hill Street Blues” fame; born September 24, 1946). They tied the knot on November 24, 1995 and welcomed their first daughter together, Reilly Marie, on June 3, 1996. She was an extra and later had a few non-speaking roles on several episodes of "Touched by an Angel" and in a few of Roma's television movies. Roma and Anspaugh divorced in March of 1998.
Touched By an Angel
Ireland-born Roma Downey studied at the London Drama Studio and while touring the United States with Dublin's famous Abbey Players, she was nominated for the Helen Hayes Best Actress Award in 1991 for her brilliant performance in a production of “The Playboy of the Western World.” Her stage credits include the 1989 Broadway production of Somerset Maugham's "The Circle" (opposite Rex Harrison; Roma played the ingenue) and some Off-Broadway Productions, including "Love's Labour's Lost," the environmental theater piece "Tamara" (1987) and "Arms and the Man."
Roma made her TV debut in a recurring role as British aristocrat Lady Johanna Leighton on the ABC soap "One Life to Live" in 1988. In 1991, she was noticed while portraying J Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis from age 16 to 60 in the six-hour NBC Emmy-winning mini-series "A Woman Named Jackie." Following the warmly-received mini-series, Roma had notable roles as a compassionate girlfriend in Showtime’s movie Devlin (starring Bryan Brown), adapted from Roderick Thorp's book, and as a girlfriend to a married man simultaneously involved with three women in Lifetime’s movie Getting Up and Going Home, based on Robert Anderson's book. She also starred as the Amazon leader Hippolyta in the syndicated Hercules and the Amazon Women (1994).
1994 proved to be Roma’s breakthrough year. She won the main character of Monica, a sweet and tender apprentice angel under angelic Tess’ (played by Della Reese) supervision, on CBS high-rated drama "Touched By an Angel." Roma stayed on the show since its pilot episode on September 21, 1994 until the show’s end on April 27, 2003 run and was nominated for two Emmys as well as a Golden Globe.
"It's been so gratifying. I think we are helping to fill a void with ‘Touched By An Angel’ by sending a positive message. It's letting people know that they are not alone. We don't come into the situation and wave a fairy wand and make everything magically okay." Roma Downey.
The success of "Touched By an Angel" has helped to catapult Roma’s profile. During her “Angel” years, she went to star in Showtime’s crime drama movie The Last Word and CBS’ drama thriller adapted from David Stout's novel, A Child is Missing (both in 1995). She also had a recurring role in "Promised Land," a spin-off from her series "Touched by an Angel," and served as a host in a February 1998 episode of NBC's weekly late night comedy-variety show "Saturday Night Live."
In the rest of the 1990s, Roma played lead roles in made-for-TV movies. She starred as a hard-working single mother named Kathleen in the charming romantic fantasy Borrowed Hearts (1997) and portrayed Helen Keller's teacher Annie Sullivan in the biopic Monday After the Miracle (1998; Moira Kelly played Keller). She also starred as a wife who finds out about her husband's (played by William Russ) best-kept secret when he is injured in a plane crash in Lifetime Network tear jerker A Secret Life (1999) and The Test of Love (1999).
Entering the new millennium, Roma still worked on the small screen. Besides her “Angel” stint, she co-starred with Tim Matheson playing husband and wife who has been married for 20 years in the romantic comedy TV-movie Second Honeymoon and starred opposite George Newbern in the Christmas-spirited TV movie Sons of Mistletoe (both in 2001).
After her “Angel” job ended, Roma went to star as a woman who was raped by a serial killer in the TV movie version of Lisa Gardner's book, the drama thriller The Survivors Club (2004; alongside Jacqueline Bisset), and landed a recurring role as Reagan Gilancy on the popular Lifetime cop drama "The Division." That same year, she appeared in the feature film as Megan, opposite Matthew Modine and Seth Adkins, in the amusing, darkly comic family movie directed by Harry Basil, Funky Monkey. This is the last acting job Roma played as of the late 2006.
"For me, it's a milestone age. I'm at a great place in my life. I have exceeded my own expectations in terms of what I wanted to accomplish by this time---I am a mother, a successful working actress, a producer, and an author." Roma Downey (when asked about how she felt about turning 40).
- TV Guide: Favorite Actress in a Drama, "Touched by an Angel," 1999