March 30, 1998 12:00 PM

TRUTH IS, THEY DIDN’T WANT TO meet in the first place. When a mutual friend offered to fix up Roma Downey and David Anspaugh in 1994, Anspaugh “kept saying ‘no, thank’you,’ ” he told PEOPLE in 1996. “I’d had a couple of unfortunate relationships with actresses.” As for Downey, who had just been blessed with the role of Monica on CBS’s Touched by an Angel, “I’d never been on a blind date,” she told PEOPLE. “I said, ‘Are you kidding? How embarrassing!’ ”

Maybe the heavens were trying to tell them something. Late last month—less than 2½ years after the actress and director (Hoosiers, Rudy) wed in an intimate Salt Lake City ceremony—Downey filed for divorce. The reason? In large part, both sides agree, it was Anspaugh’s recently diagnosed depression, a condition for which he is now taking medication. “David has said he was not a barrel of laughs,” says his spokesman Elliot Mintz. “His depression weighed heavily on their marriage.”

The denouement, though, is a matter of dispute. Last month, Anspaugh, 51, left the country-style Salt Lake City home he shared with Downey, 37, and their daughter Reilly Marie, 22 months, and entered an Arizona treatment center. “David spent 2½ weeks there before Roma showed up and met with him and his therapist,” Mintz says. “He had entered the clinic hoping to continue his marriage, but at that meeting Roma indicated it was over, so he felt no need to stay.”

Della Reese, Downey’s Angel costar and close friend, tells a different tale. “It’s not that she left him when he was sick—that’s the biggest lie,” she says. “At the clinic he asked Roma, ‘Are you going to take me back?’ and Roma said, ‘Not like this.’ So he said, ‘Well, I’m not staying here’ and walked out—even though the doctors said he wasn’t ready. Roma’s terribly hurt. She was in love with this man.”

The feeling was once mutual. On that first date—dinner and a round of pool in Venice Beach, Calif., in ’94—Anspaugh knew “there was something potentially very serious here,” he later said. Both he and Downey, a native of Northern Ireland, had been divorced: he in 1988 after 13 years of marriage to a cruise-line sales manager, with whom he had a daughter, Vanessa, now 18; she in the 1980s after a brief marriage to a fellow actor. And both knew the score on showbiz unions. “The business is littered with marital casualties, and we don’t want to be a statistic,” Downey said soon after they wed. “We’ve promised we’ll never be apart for longer than two weeks.”

The vow proved hard to honor: Angel tapes in Salt Lake City, while directing opportunities for Anspaugh—whose most recent feature was 1995’s Moonlight and Valentino—are in L.A., where the couple have a second home. “Even when he was in Salt Lake, she was working 16 hours a day,” says Angelo Pizzo, a screenwriter and Anspaugh’s longtime friend. And as Angel broke into TV’s Top 10, Downey emerged as one of Hollywood’s hottest stars—which may or may not have bugged her beloved. “He hasn’t worked since they’ve been together,” says Reese. “He hasn’t done anything but make her miserable and try to tell her she shouldn’t enjoy her success. She bought him a mansion to live in, she put him in a good car, she put money in his pocket. I wish somebody would treat me that bad.”

Whatever the case, the man Downey once said attracted her because “his whole face lights up when he smiles” was growing darker by the day. “He was becoming increasingly depressed for reasons he wasn’t clear about,” says Pizzo. Reese says he took out his pain on Downey. “She’d come home after a long day and there’d be no food. She’d say, ‘Didn’t you get me something to eat?’ and he would say, ‘What am I, your maid?’ He’s impossible. He’s nasty.”

And now he’s on his own. For Anspaugh, who is negotiating to direct two upcoming feature films, “the drugs have really been helpful,” says Pizzo. “He feels a lot better.” That won’t mean a second chance for his marriage (“Too much damage has been done,” Pizzo says), but it could make for a more civil divorce. That, no doubt, would be a blessing for little Reilly Marie, the chubby-cheeked toddler both parents adore. “Because of Reilly, they have to come to terms,” says Pizzo. “Roma and David are going to be joined in a relationship for the rest of their lives.”


TOM CUNEFF in Los Angeles and CATHY FREE in Salt Lake City