Roma Downey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Roma Downey

Downey in 2015
Born (1960-05-06) 6 May 1960 (age 63)[1]
Alma materBrighton College of Art (BA)
Drama Studio London
  • Actress
  • producer
  • author
Years active1988–present
Known forTouched by an Angel
A Woman Named Jackie
(m. 1987; div. 1989)
(m. 1995; div. 1998)
(m. 2007)

Roma Downey OBE (born 6 May 1960) is an Irish actress, producer and author. For nine seasons, Downey played Monica the angel in the CBS television series Touched by an Angel. She also played the leading role of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the Emmy award-winning NBC mini-series A Woman Named Jackie. In addition to her television work, Downey has performed on stage with the Abbey Theatre, The National Theatre of Ireland and has appeared both on and off Broadway.

Downey starred in and was executive producer for a number of television movies for the CBS network, including Borrowed Hearts and Second Honeymoon. As President of Lightworkers Media, the faith and family division of MGM, Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett, produced the Emmy-nominated miniseries The Bible – in which she appeared as Mary, mother of Jesus – for the History Channel, which was watched by over 100 million people in the United States.[citation needed] Downey and Burnett also executive-produced the feature films Ben-Hur, starring Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell and Morgan Freeman; Son of God; Little Boy; Woodlawn; Resurrection; Messiah; and Country Ever After.[2] Downey and Burnett also produced The Dovekeepers – based on the best selling book by Alice Hoffman – for CBS and A.D. The Bible Continues for NBC, Women of the Bible for Lifetime, and Answered Prayers for TLC. Downey is the executive producer of the documentary Faithkeepers about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Bump Along the Way and of the short film Rough, which won the IFTA for best short film in 2021.[3] Downey produced the Amazon Prime feature film On a Wing and a Prayer – starring Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham and directed by Sean McNamara – which closed the Sarasota Film Festival where Downey was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award. Most recently, Downey Executive Produced the family drama series The Baxters, released in Spring of 2024 on Amazon Prime Video, based on the Karen Kingsbury best selling book series. In the series, Roma also plays the role of Elizabeth Baxter.

Variety recognized Downey and Burnett as "trailblazers" and listed Downey as one of Variety's "100 Most Powerful Women in Hollywood".[4] The Hollywood Reporter included the couple in their "Most Influential People of 2013" and Downey as one of the "100 Women in Entertainment Power" in 2014.[5] She was honored on Variety's "Women of Impact in 2014".[6] On 11 August 2016, she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2021, Downey received the Lifetime Achievement Award for the International Christian Film & Music Festival[7] and was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to the Arts, Drama and to the Community in Northern Ireland.[8]

Downey has also authored multiple books, including the New York Times best-seller Box of Butterflies in 2018. Her most recent – Be an Angel: Devotions to Inspire and Encourage Love and Light Along the Way – was released in February 2023. She is an ambassador for Operation Smile, serving on missions to Honduras, Vietnam and Jordan.

Early life[edit]

Downey was born and raised in Derry, Northern Ireland, in the Bogside district.[9] Roma is named after her two grandmothers, Ro from Rose and Ma from Mary, joined to make Roma. She attended Thornhill College, a Catholic girls school. Her mother, Maureen O'Reilly Downey, a housewife with an interest in the performing arts, died from a heart attack at age 48 when Downey was ten years old. Her father, Patrick Downey, was a mortgage broker.[9][10] Her father died when Downey was 20. Originally, she planned to be a painter and earned a Bachelor of Arts at Brighton College of Art. Roma studied BA (Hons) Expressive Arts at Brighton Polytechnic. Based at the Falmer campus, she combined Art and Drama for her degree. She then went on to study acting in London at The Drama Studio.


She joined the Abbey Players, based at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, and toured the United States in a production of The Playboy of the Western World.[11] Downey moved to New York City after an agent, whom she met during the tour of The Playboy of the Western World, suggested she had potential for success there. She took a job as a coat checker at an Upper West Side restaurant, before getting cast in Broadway shows.[12]

The production led to a nomination during the Broadway run for the Helen Hayes Best Actress Award in 1991.[13] She also starred on Broadway in The Circle with Sir Rex Harrison and also at the Roundabout Theater and The Public Theater in New York City.[14]

Downey played the role of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the American television miniseries A Woman Named Jackie (1991) which won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries in 1992.[15]

Touched by an Angel[edit]

Downey in 1998

Downey's role as Jacqueline Kennedy led to her most famous role, as the angel Monica, on the CBS series Touched by an Angel, opposite singer-actress, Della Reese and John Dye, which ran from 1994 to 2003.

She received one nomination and one win at the TV Guide awards for favorite actress and also received two Emmy Award nominations and two Golden Globe nominations. Downey has said the character Monica interested her because it was a strong female role, which were "few and far between" and for its spiritual aspects:

It was pilot season of ‘94 and I was reading through endless junk scripts that were being sent my way. Typically the roles were to play his wife or his girlfriend — leading roles for women were few and far between. Suddenly a very unusual script turned up. "Now this is curious," I remember thinking. Because I'm a person of faith, the spiritual aspects got my attention. Also, the actress in me was delighted to read a show that had not one but two strong female roles - female angels. I was to audition for Monica and I very much liked Della Reese, who of course ended up playing Tess.[16]

Downey has also spoken of her deep and lasting love for and friendship with Della Reese.[17] The two remained close until Reese's death on 19 November 2017.[18] She commented that Reese was "such an influence on my life. She was my mother. I was a girl without a mother and for certain God brought her into my life. She was one of the lasting gifts of Touched by an Angel."[19]

The Bible[edit]

On 24 May 2011, Downey and husband Mark Burnett announced they were producing a 10-hour docudrama for the History channel, The Bible, based on stories from the Bible scheduled to air in 2013.[20] They began planning it in 2009 and lined up their own financing.[21] The full production cost was US$22 million.[22] Downey and Burnett wanted to stay as true to the content in the Bible as possible so they put together a wide variety of pastors and academics to review the script and filming. For example, they worked with Pastors Joel Osteen and Rick Warren and academics such as Craig A. Evans and Mark Goodacre.[23]

The Bible has been watched by over 100 million viewers in the United States alone [24][25] The series has been the number one downloaded series in iTunes and ranked on Amazon's best sellers in movies and television.[25] A theatrical release was released on 28 February 2014 in the United States, under the title Son of God.[26] The Bible was nominated for the 2013 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries or Movie. Downey played the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus.[25] The Bible was filmed in 2012 in Morocco.[27][28]

In July 2013, it was announced that Downey and Burnett would produce A.D., the sequel to The Bible.[29] In December 2013, NBC ordered A.D.. The series covered the spread of Christianity after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.[30]

Other work[edit]

Downey also produced and starred in television movies including Borrowed Hearts and Second Honeymoon.[14] During the run of Touched by an Angel, she recorded the spoken-word album Healing Angel.[31] and wrote the children's book Love Is A Family.[32] She also co-authored a book with her husband, A Story of God and All of Us. She hosted It's a Miracle (TV series), on the Pax Network and appeared on stage in A Picasso at the Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles. She portrayed Annie Sullivan in the TV movie Monday After the Miracle (1998).[33] She has hosted Saturday Night Live,[34] was one of People's most beautiful people. She is a spokesperson for the volunteer group Operation Smile.[35] In 2009, she starred in the movie Come Dance at My Wedding alongside John Schneider. On 16 July 2011, she appeared with actress Marion Ross in the made-for-TV movie Keeping up with the Randalls, broadcast on the Hallmark Channel.[36] Downey is the executive producer of the animated video series, Little Angels, which was released on DVD with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment on 14 February 2012.[37]

In December 2013, CBS announced a new miniseries with Downey and Burnett, The Dovekeepers based on the New York Times bestseller by Alice Hoffman. The miniseries aired in 2015.[38] In September 2014, MGM acquired a 55% interest in One Three Media and Lightworkers Media. The two companies consolidated into a new film and television company, United Artists Media Group. Burnett became UA's CEO and Downey became president of LightWorkers Media.[39][40]

In December 2015, MGM acquired the remaining 45% of Hearst's, Burnett's and Downey's interests in United Artists Media Group (UAMG), which was absorbed under the MGM Television Group umbrella. Downey remains President of LightWorkers Media, which became the Faith & Family division of MGM.[citation needed]

Downey executive produced a re-telling of Ben-Hur,[41] starring Jack Huston, which was released in August 2016.[42]

On November 16, 2016, it was announced Downey and her husband were starting the religious-themed TV network Light TV airing on Fox stations and affiliates.[43] It was reported on December 5, 2020, that Light TV would stop broadcasting and be replaced by TheGrio.TV.[44]

Downey is the author of several books, including Unexpected Blessings and Box of Butterflies, which became a New York Times best seller.

Personal life[edit]

Downey is married to television producer Mark Burnett. She has two step-sons, James Burnett and Cameron Burnett, and a daughter, Reilly Marie Downey Anspaugh (born 3 June 1996) from her previous marriage to director David Anspaugh. She was also previously married to actor Leland Orser. Reilly is named after her grandmother, Maureen O'Reilly Downey.[9] On Thanksgiving Day 2006, Burnett proposed to Downey during a family vacation in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.[45] They wed on 28 April 2007 in their Malibu home.[46] Her Touched by an Angel co-star, Della Reese, officiated at the wedding.

Downey is a "Smile Ambassador" for the non-profit organization Operation Smile which provides surgeries for children around the world who were born with severe cleft lip and palate.[47] She has traveled on several international missions with the group to Vietnam, Honduras and Jordan.[48]

She supported the unsuccessful candidacy of Martin McGuinness for President of Ireland in 2011.[49] Downey received the Sally Award by the Salvation Army for her contribution to entertainment and helping those in need on 1 October 2015.[50]

Downey was raised Roman Catholic.[51] She and her husband Burnett describe themselves as Christians. [52]

On 18 April 2009, Downey and Burnett delivered the keynote address and accepted honorary doctorate degrees[53] at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management commencement ceremony.[54]

In 2014, Roma Downey and her husband were recipients of the Anti-Defamation League's Entertainment Industry Award. The husband and wife are heavily involved with philanthropic organizations Operation Smile and Compassion International. In 2015, they partnered with the Institute for Global Engagement to launch the Cradle Fund (TCF). TCF is focused on raising $25 million to help Middle Eastern minorities displaced by ISIS to return to a home where they can practice their faith without fear. As of 2019, they have helped more than 10,000 displaced Christian refugees to relocate.[citation needed]

In February 2016, Downey and Burnett gave the keynote address at the National Prayer Breakfast held in Washington DC by President Obama.[citation needed]

Downey also has a Doctor of Fine Art (DFA) honorary degree from the University of Ulster for her outstanding contribution to acting and philanthropy,[55] and she and Burnett received honorary Doctor of Letters degrees from Nyack College in 2014.[56]

In 2010, Downey graduated from the University of Santa Monica with a master's degree in Spiritual Psychology.[57]

Downey was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2021 Birthday Honours for services to the arts, drama and the community in Northern Ireland.[58][8]



TV roles
Year Title Role Notes
1988 One Life to Live Lady Johanna Leighton Unknown episodes
1991 The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage Danielle St. Clair Movie
1991 Disney Presents The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage Danielle St. Clair 7 episodes
1991 A Woman Named Jackie Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Miniseries; 3 episodes
1992 Getting Up and Going Home Kimberly Stevens Movie
1992 Devlin Eileen Movie
1993 New Year Suzanne Hartman Movie
1994 Hercules and the Amazon Women Hippolyta Movie
1994 Diagnosis: Murder Heather Winslow Episode: "Reunion with Murder"
1994–2003 Touched by an Angel Monica 211 episodes
1995 A Child Is Missing Samantha Hallihan Movie
1996–1998 Promised Land Monica 3 episodes
1997 Borrowed Hearts Kathleen Russell Movie
1998 Monday After the Miracle Annie Sullivan Movie
1999 A Secret Life Cassie Whitman Movie
1999 The Test of Love Cassie Whitman Movie
2001 Between the Lions Herself 3 episodes
2001 Second Honeymoon Maggie Weston Movie
2001 The Sons of Mistletoe Helen Radke Movie
2004 The Survivors Club Jillian Hayes Movie
2004 The Division Reagan Gilancy 3 episodes
2009 Come Dance at My Wedding Laura Williams Movie
2011 Keeping Up with the Randalls Barb Movie
2013 The Bible Mary, mother of Jesus Miniseries; 3 episodes
2018 The Baxters Elisabeth Baxter lead Role


Feature film roles
Year Title Role Notes
1995 The Last Word Roxy
2004 Funky Monkey Megan
2008 At Jesus' Side Petra Voice role
2014 Son of God Mother Mary


Year Title Notes
1997 Borrowed Hearts TV movie
1998 Monday After the Miracle TV movie
1999 The Test of Love TV movie
2001 Second Honeymoon TV movie
2001 The Sons of Mistletoe TV movie
2004 The Survivors Club TV movie
2004 Funky Monkey
2013 The Bible Miniseries
2014 Son of God
2015 The Dovekeepers Miniseries
2015 A.D. The Bible Continues Limited series
2015 Answered Prayers TLC series
2015 Woodlawn
2016 Ben-Hur
2019 Messiah TV series
2023 On A Wing And A Prayer


In 1999, Downey signed with RCA Victor Records and recorded a CD called Healing Angel, released on 14 September 1999.[31]

Year Album details Peak Sales
US New Age
1999 Healing Angel
  • Released: 14 September
  • Label: RCA
5 US sales: 42,901[59]


Year Title Role(s) Notes Ref.
1987 Tamara Emilia Pavese [60]
1988 Ghosts Regina [61]
1989 Love's Labour's Lost Rosaline [62]
1989 Aristocrats Anna's Voice [63]
1989 Arms and the Man Raina Petkoff [64]
1989 The Circle Elizabeth [65]
1990 The Playboy of the Western World Margaret Flaherty [66]
2007 A Picasso Miss Fischer [67]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Category Work Result Ref.
1991 Helen Hayes Awards Best Actress The Playboy of the Western World Nominated [13]
1997 Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Touched by an Angel Nominated [68]
1998 Touched by an Angel Nominated [68]
1998 Gemini Awards Best TV Movie or Mini-Series Borrowed Hearts (shared w/co-stars) Nominated
1998 Golden Globe Awards Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series – Drama Touched By an Angel Nominated [69]
1999 Touched by an Angel Nominated [69]
1999 TV Guide Awards Favorite Actress in a Drama Touched by an Angel Won [70]
2013 Emmy Awards Outstanding Miniseries or Movie The Bible (as producer) Nominated [71][72]
2016 IFTA Irish Diaspora Award Won


  • "Love Is a Family." (2001). Harper Entertainment ISBN 978-0060393748
  • "Box of Butterflies: Discovering the Unexpected Blessing All Around Us." (2018). ISBN 978-1501150937


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  1. ^ she has one biological daughter and two stepsons

External links[edit]