Whatever happened to Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey?

Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey was born in Derry, Northern Ireland. Her talent for acting led her to study at Drama Studio London before joining Dublin-based Abbey Players, and the drama troupe later travelled to America for a tour. Soon enough, she was performing in Broadway productions in New York City.

After making her first screen appearance on One Life to Live in 1988, Downey caught her big break when she was cast as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the 1991 TV miniseries A Woman Named Jackie. More TV roles followed, ranging from guest-starring appearances on various series to more made-for-TV movies. In 1994, Downey found a role that dovetailed perfectly with her profession as an actor and her deeply held spiritual beliefs, Touched by an Angel, and it would go on to change her life forever.

Touched by an Angel's message of hope and redemption resonated with viewers, and the show enjoyed a successful nine-season run until ending in 2003. Since then, Downey's career has blossomed in some unexpected new areas. Read on to find out what this actress has been up to since her hit series left the air.

Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey found TV fame

During pilot season of 1994, Roma Downey found herself reading "endless junk scripts" until she came across Touched by an Angel, a CBS drama about two angels (later three) who help people suffering crises of faith. As "a person of faith," she told Ability Magazine, "the spiritual aspects" of the show captured her.

The show was not an instant hit. Downey recalled the show being a "laughingstock" in that first season, remembering that TV Guide dubbed it the season's "iffiest new show." As Variety noted, CBS likely would have canceled the low-rated series had it not been for a huge fan campaign begging the network to keep it on the air.

The show returned, and, by the 1997 season, Touched by an Angel was a hit, earning Emmy nominations during its run. "I loved being on that show," Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey told Beliefnet. "I loved being the messenger, the believer. I loved being part of a message that went out weekly reminding people there is a God and this is God's purpose for you and God will be part of your life and most importantly that God loves you."

Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey had a lifelong friendship with co-star Della Reese

Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey and Della Reese weren't just co-stars, but they also grew to become close personal friends, developing a relationship that extended beyond the life of the show. Reese, in fact, was godmother to Downey's daughter, Reilly Marie, as noted by E! News.

In a 2015 interview with CBN News, Downey revealed that having Reese in her life was nothing short of an answered prayer. "My mother had died when I was 10 years of age, and, you know, my whole life I was looking for that mother figure, that nurturing figure," she explained. She added, "And I had a prayer as a young girl that somehow someone would come into my life and fill that role." Della Reese did just that.

When Reese passed away in 2017, Downey shared a touching tribute on Instagram, posting a clip of one of her most loved scenes from their show. In the caption, she recalled "Della taking me into the warmth of her embrace" while filming. She noted, "To be in her arms was to feel love. I know Della has gone home to the peace of Heaven, but I'm going to miss her."

Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey hosted Saturday Night Live

Touched by an Angel was an established hit when Roma Downey was invited to host Saturday Night Live in 1998. During her monologue, Downey was joined by SNL cast member Tracy Morgan, costumed as her Angel co-star Della Reese

While Downey apparently remembered the experience fondly, the episode was not particularly well-received at the time. A review from the Deseret News cited her participation in "a completely lame opening take-off on Touched by an Angel," along with "a pointless bit as a Unitarian minister; an appearance as Russia's Catherine the Great — answering questions from reporters about her alleged 'improper sexual relationship' with a horse; as a bride-to-be with an obnoxious cousin; and as a busty dame at a Valentine's dance," who uttered such dialogue as "Let's just say if guys was flies I'd be the poop."

The reviewer wrote that, while it was "fully understandable" that Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey would want to branch out as an actress to show viewers that her talents extend beyond portraying an angel, the only thing she actually demonstrated "was her ability to make poor career choices." Yikes.

How faith led Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey to her husband

By the end of Touched by an Angel's run, Roma Downey had been divorced twice, ending her marriage to actor Leland Orser and later splitting with producer David Anspaugh. In an interview with Associated Press, Downey revealed that her "friend, mother, and mentor" Della Reese encouraged her to pray that the Almighty would lead her to her soulmate. "Let that be your prayer, that God will choose your husband for you," Downey recalled Reese telling her.

In 2004, according to HuffPostTouched by an Angel's Roma Downey was in a nail salon having a mani-pedi when she saw a man in the shop having a haircut. Admitting that "he got my ... emotional attention," she asked who he was when she was paying her bill. "It's funny you should ask me," the receptionist told her, "because he just asked who you were." That man was Mark Burnett, executive producer of such reality TV hits as Survivor, The Voice, and The Apprentice — and her future husband. 

As Downey explained, "Little did we know when we first met and we fell in love that we would literally join forces to create so much together."

This celeb officiated the wedding of Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey

In 2007, Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey married Mark Burnett in a ceremony in Malibu. Officiating the nuptials was none other than Downey's friend, mentor, and co-star Della Reese, who was also an ordained minister. "It was wonderful to have shared our big day with our family — Roma, myself, our children and our parents," Burnett told People, speaking of his two sons and Downey's daughter. "It was so meaningful and intimate."

People shared more details about the ceremony, describing how members of the couple's families read applicable passages from poems and novels. Downey had a big surprise in store for her new husband at the ceremony's end, as she had hired a small plane to fly overhead with a banner flying behind that read, "...and they lived happily ever after."

"We fell in love, and we've been inseparable ever since," Downey told HuffPost of her marriage to Burnett. "We've brought our children together, we blended a family — it was a marriage of five people." She added, "We're a good team, and it's such a blessing."

Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey found success behind the camera

From her experience with Touched by an Angel, Roma Downey realized there was a hunger for TV series and films with a spiritual element, entertainment that could elevate and inspire, but she believed Hollywood simply wasn't making enough of them. Downey set out to change that in 2009, when she and husband Mark Burnett founded LightWorkers Media with a goal of creating "engaging, uplifting and inspirational content that breaks through the clutter."

With Downey as president, LightWorkers quickly became a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. In 2014, Multichannel News reported that media conglomerate MGM purchased a 55 percent stake in both LightWorkers and Burnett's One Three Media, consolidating the two companies into a new entertainment brand called United Artists Media Group. Burnett was appointed CEO of the new company, while Downey remained president of LightWorkers, which became "the faith and family division" of this new entity. 

"We see this as such an underserved market," Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey told the Los Angeles Times. "There's a great hunger and need and a community for this... We need to be a respite and be a reminder of what's possible."

Why Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey made a miniseries out of the Bible

The first major project produced by Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey and husband Mark Burnett was an ambitious one: The Bible, a 2013 History Channel miniseries dramatizing the story of the holy book — diving into the Old and New Testaments and its 66 books — in ten one-hour installments. For The Bible, Downey even stepped in front of the camera to play a pretty major role: Mary, mother of Jesus.

The Bible proved to be a ratings phenomenon. As CNN reported, the first of the ten installments was watched by 13.1 million viewers, earning a 3.3 rating in the all-important 18-49 demographic; when a repeat later the same night was factored in, total viewership rose to 14.8 million. That, CNN pointed out, represented more viewers and a higher rating than any show achieved on any of the major broadcast networks that night, and the minseries became the year's most-watched entertainment telecast on cable.

According to a press release, The Bible was ultimately watched by an audience of 100 million, and the series went on to sell more than a million copies on DVD.

The success of The Bible from Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey warranted a sequel

Given the unprecedented success of The Bible, Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey and husband Mark Burnett quickly went to work on a sequel to the mega-hit miniseries, but there was one big obstacle to overcome: The actual Bible doesn't have a sequel, so where to turn for source material?

As Downey told The Hollywood Reporterthe miniseries would follow the spread of Christianity after the crucifixion. "With A.D. The Bible Continues, we have been able to use the death of Jesus as the starting point because really it's the journey of what happens next," Downey said. "It was a moment that changed the world — it changed world history. ... It had resounding impact."

A.D. The Bible Continues premiered on Easter Sunday 2015, this time airing on a broadcast network, NBC. Ratings for A.D. weren't as high as they were for The Bible, but by no means were they low. As Deadline reported, the first episode brought in a 2.3 rating in the 18-49 demo and 9.5 million total viewers.

Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey returned to CBS with The Dovekeepers

As an actress, Roma Downey enjoyed her biggest success at CBS with Touched by an Angel, and Downey came full circle when she returned to her old network with new miniseries The Dovekeepers in 2015. Based on Alice Hoffman's novelThe Dovekeepers tells the story of the Roman siege of Masada, seen from a female perspective.

With Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey behind the camera as executive producer, NCIS star Cote de Pablo and a pre-Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Rachel Brosnahan were cast in The Dovekeepers' lead roles. 

Unlike The Bible and A.D.The Dovekeepers was not a hit, and reviews were savage. The Los Angeles Times described The Dovekeepers as "so bad that a person could write books about its badness," while The Hollywood Reporter called out the show for its "chintzy special effects and subpar acting." Viewers apparently agreed; Deadline reported that the second of its two episodes was the night's lowest-rated show on all the broadcast networks.

Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey announced Light TV

Roma Downey and husband Mark Burnett quickly became one of Hollywood's most-renowned power couples, having been listed among Variety's "most influential" people in Hollywood in 2013. In 2016, the duo announced another new entertainment venture: Light TV, described by Associated Press as a new broadcast network featuring "wholesome family and faith-based" programming. Thanks to their deal with MGM, the network would also be able to draw on MGM-owned film and TV properties that would fit with the network's theme, including such movies as Rocky and TV shows like Highway to Heaven and Fame.

The network launched in December 2016, with Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey confident that Light TV would serve an audience that was hungry for inspirational, faith-based television programming. "This is the last unclaimed vertical," she said in the announcement, as reported by Deadline. "As we have already seen from the success of The Bible series and our 20 million social followers this audience is looking for inspiring and uplifting programming that they can watch in a trusted and safe environment on any platform."

Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey wrote a New York Times bestseller

In 2018, Roma Downey set about conquering yet another form of media: publishing. That was the year that Simon & Schuster published her first book, Box of Butterflies, subtitled Discovering the Hidden Blessings All Around Us. With a message "reminscent" of Touched by an Angel, the book's title comes from Downey's nearly lifelong belief that whenever she encounters butterflies, she views them as a "reminder of God's presence." Along with anecdotes from her life, Downey also shares poems, scripture, and inspirational quotes that hold deep personal meaning to her.

Discussing the book with Catholic News Service, Downey revealed that many of the inspiring life lessons she shared in her New York Times bestselling book actually grew from personal pain. As she recalled, her "childhood essentially ended at age 10" when her mother passed away. "Everyone is going to be touched by suffering," Downey explained. "It is part of the human experience."

As Catholic News Service noted, in the book, Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey describes the key message she hopes readers will take away from Box of Butterflies"We can choose darkness and lack," she wrote. "Or we can choose light, hope and gratitude. May we all choose light."

Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey did heartwarming work with Operation Smile

During the first season of Touched by an Angel, Roma Downey was approached by Dr. Bill Magee, a plastic surgeon who founded Operation Smile. Through the organization, he and other doctors travelled throughout the world to perform pro bono surgery on disadvantaged children to repair their cleft palates. At the time, Downey told Ability Magazine that Magee asked the show if it was possible to create an episode around the work they were doing. 

When Touched by an Angel ended, Downey explained, she had maintained a relationship with Magee, and was asked to sit on Operation Smile's board of governors. This led to a role as ambassador and spokesperson, which offered the opportunity for Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey to travel on some of Operation Smile's missions. As she told Ability Magazine, one of those trips brought her to south Vietnam, where she was "actively participating" with children in a hospital. "Next to the birth of my own child, it was the most moving experience of my life," she said. "I had forgotten that it's in giving that you truly receive. I went there thinking I was doing them a favor, but truth be told, I came back feeling richer and fuller."

Why Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey remade Ben-Hur

Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey and husband Mark Burnett achieved incredible success with such television projects as The Bible and A.D., and 2016 saw the couple shift their focus to the big screen. Their first film was a big-budget (reportedly $100 million) remake of the 1959 sword-and-sandals epic Ben-Hur, set during the time of Jesus Christ. As in the original, the story surrounds Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur, who is falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother Messala. 

Speaking with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts, as reported by ABC News, Burnett highlighted the big difference in the new Ben-Hur compared to the original: Jesus was never seen in the 1959 version, but, in the new film, viewers "get to hear him, see him, and see how he impacts others," he said. According to Downey, the main theme of the story is forgiveness between the two men, with Jesus at the center of it. "They end up ultimately, because of Jesus, in a story of redemption and forgiveness and reconciliation," she added. 

According to Box Office MojoBen-Hur's worldwide box office was just $94 million — less than it reportedly cost to make.

Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey was allegedly injured in an altercation after the 2018 Emmys

Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey found herself in the midst of some bizarre headlines in 2018, after her husband, Mark Burnett, got into an alleged physical altercation with comedian Tom Arnold during a party after the 2018 Emmy Awards. It all stemmed from Arnold's TV show The Hunt for the Trump Tapes, in which he sought outtakes from the Burnett-produced reality show The Apprentice featuring then-future president Donald Trump allegedly uttering all manner of offensive remarks. Despite Arnold's requests, Burnett refused to turn over any footage.

After the incident, Arnold tweeted that Burnett "went apes**t" and "choked" him. Downey, however, claimed the opposite, painting Arnold as the aggressor when she tweeted a photo of a big bruise on her hand, seemingly implying it was inflicted when Arnold tried to "ambush" her husband. According to CNN, Arnold filed a police report against Burnett, alleging battery; Deadline later reported that the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office dropped the case, citing "insufficient evidence."

Among the witnesses was How I Met Your Mother's Alyson Hannigan, who tweeted that she saw Burnett and Arnold "get into a fight." She noted, "Thought it was a joke until security jumped in!"

Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey headed back to TV with The Baxters

In 2018, Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey announced plans for The Baxters, the first-ever scripted series to air on her LightWorkers Media streaming service, as reported by Variety. Based on the novels of Karen Kingsbury, the family drama follows the joys and heartbreak of John and Elizabeth Baxter and their six adult children, told in brief 11-minute episodes. With Downey set to star alongside Ted McGinley, The Baxters marked her first role as a regular on a TV show since Touched by an Angel. Additionally, she would also serve as executive producer in order to ensure the series achieved the goals she had set for it.

"We explored many avenues for this show," Downey told Variety. "We believe digital is the way to bring it to life." By having LightWorkers produce the series, Downey felt this allowed for "a creative freedom we wouldn't have elsewhere," noting, "These characters are sincere in their faith, and that sets them apart from other stories."