Raquel Welch, who rose to fame as a sex symbol in the 1960s, has died. She was 82.
Welch’s son, Damon, confirmed she died Wednesday at her home in Los Angeles after a brief illness.
“She passed away with no pain,” he said. “I’m very proud about what she contributed to society and her career and everything. I’m most proud of her doing the U.S.O tours with Bob Hope during the late 60s and early 70s. We missed Christmas with her for three years while she was doing that. She said that was the hardest thing.”
Welch’s career started in the 1960s with appearances on TV shows such as The Virginian, McHale’s Navy and Bewitched. That paved the way for back-to-back roles in Fantastic Voyage, and One Million Years B.C. That latter role catapulted her to sex symbol status. Welch would go on to star in several films, including 1970’s Myra Breckinridge, where she played a trans actress, and The Three Musketeers, which earned her a Golden Globe in 1974 for best actress in a motion picture comedy or musical.
She leaves behind her two children, her son Damon Welch and her daughter, Tahnee Welch.
Welch was born Jo-Raquel Tejada in Chicago, Illinois to a Bolivian father and an American mother.
Though she didn’t often discuss her identity in the early years of her career, the actress embraced her Latinidad in the early 2000s, both by speaking openly about her background and by playing Latina roles like Aunt Dora in the PBS show American Family and Hortensia in the film Tortilla Soup.
“Raquel Welch was a screen legend during a time when Latinos rarely were given any work in Hollywood (unless it was a stereotype),” said film critic and Entertainment Weekly editor Yolanda Machado. “She had to hide her identity to succeed, and despite what a heavy weight that may have been to conceal, she triumphed in memorable performances that stand as a portal into an entire generation.”
Welch told the New York Times in 2002 that though she didn’t try to intentionally cover up her Bolivian heritage, it wasn’t a significant part of her culture at home because of her father’s attempts to assimilate as much as possible.
“Those people who wanted to make it in the American system found it necessary and desirable to kind of suppress their Latino quality,” she explained. “He never spoke any Spanish in the home, so as not to have us have an accent. We never were in a neighborhood where there were other Latinos around. I didn’t know any Latin people.”
Welch went on to say that though she partially resented his erasure of their background, she understood he was trying to protect the family from facing prejudice and discrimination.
But 40 years into her career, as Latinos made more strides for inclusivity in Hollywood, so did Welch.
“Latinos are here to stay,” she said at a National Press Club Luncheon in 2002. “As citizen Raquel, I’m proud to be Latina.”
Political cartoonist and TV writer Lalo Alcaraz said that though Welch’s background might have come as a surprise to many, he’s honored Latinos can say she belongs to the community.
“We don’t have that many stars,” Alcaraz said. “Raquel Welch is viewed as one of our stars, and I’m happy and proud about that.”
Raquel Welch: US actress and model dies at 82
US actress Raquel Welch, often credited with paving the way for modern day action heroines in Hollywood films, has died at the age of 82.
The star passed away peacefully on Wednesday morning after a brief illness, her manager said.
Welch became an international sex symbol in the 1960s, widely remembered for playing a bikini-clad cavewoman in the 1966 film One Million Years B.C.
She also won a Golden Globe for her role in 1974’s The Three Musketeers.
Born Jo-Raquel Tejada in 1940, Welch grew up in California, where she won teen beauty pageants and later became a local weather forecaster.
During a brief stint in Dallas, Texas, the divorced mother-of-two modelled for the Neiman Marcus clothing store and worked as a cocktail waitress.
Her big break came in 1964 soon after she moved back to California, when she scored cameos in A House Is Not A Home, and Roustabout, a musical starring Elvis Presley.
She shot to prominence two years later, with her back-to-back roles in the sci-fi film Fantastic Voyage and the fantasy movie One Million Years B.C.
Welch only had a few lines in the latter, but promotional stills of her wearing a skimpy two-piece deerskin bikini turned her into a leading pin-up girl of the era.
Despite her public image, however, she long expressed discomfort with the representation of her body, once saying she “was not brought up to be a sex symbol, nor is it in my nature to be one”.
“The fact that I became one is probably the loveliest, most glamorous and fortunate misunderstanding,” she added.
Welch went on to address her image in her memoir, Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage, in which she opened up about her childhood, her early career woes as a single mother in Hollywood, and why she would never lie about her age.
In a career spanning over five decades, Welch appeared in more than 30 movies and 50 television shows.
It included playing the love interest of Frank Sinatra’s character in 1968’s Lady in Cement; the titular transgender heroine in 1970’s Myra Breckenridge; and a Golden Globe-nominated performance in the 1987 TV drama Right to Die.
Later in life, she also released her own signature line of wigs, a jewellery and skincare collection, and a Mac Cosmetics makeup line.
Actress Reese Witherspoon was among those paying tribute, writing on Twitter that she “loved” working with Welch on Legally Blonde.
“She was elegant, professional and glamorous beyond belief,” said Witherspoon. “Simply stunning.”
Actress and producer Viola Davis posted a clip of her singing “I’m a Woman” with Cher in 1975, writing: “You were ageless to me…iconic”.
In 1978 she sang the same song with the famous puppet Miss Piggy, earning a tribute on Wednesday from the beloved comedy programme.
‘We’ll never forget our remarkable friend Raquel Welch, one of our favorite guests on The Muppet Show,” the Disney series tweeted.
Actor Paul Feig said he enjoyed working with her on TV series Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
“Kind, funny and a true superstar whom I was pretty much in love with for most of my childhood,” he wrote, adding: “We’ve lost a true icon.”
She leaves behind a son, Damon Welch, and daughter Latanne “Tahnee” Welch, who is also an actress.
Raquel Welch, international icon from La Jolla who starred in ‘One Million Years B.C.,’ dies at 82
Welch rose to fame with roles in ‘Fantastic Voyage’ and ‘One Million Years B.C.,’ and helped break the Hollywood mold through her portrayal of strong female characters
Raquel Welch had only three lines in the 1966 film “One Million Years B.C.,” but her doeskin bikini did all the talking anyway, launching her as an international icon almost overnight. She parlayed that notoriety into a Hollywood career that burned bright for nearly 60 years.
Welch died Wednesday, according to her management company, Media Four. She was 82.
“Raquel Welch, the legendary bombshell actress of film, television and stage, passed away peacefully early this morning after a brief illness,” said a statement from Media Four. “Her career spanned over 50 years starring in over 30 films and 50 television series and appearances. The Golden Globe winner, in more recent years, was involved in a very successful line of wigs.”
Welch was a La Jolla beauty queen-turned-single mom, but to the world, she was an exotic actor whose smoldering looks and curvy figure suited the mood of the swinging 1960s.
“I liked that there was something very superhero about her,” Welch told The Times in 2016, referring to her role as Loana the cave girl. “At least I wasn’t one of those mincing little girls; I never wanted to be that.”
Indeed, Welch had a complicated relationship with her persona. Forever determined to prove that she was more than a sex symbol, she was rarely taken as seriously as she took herself. And though she proudly refused to do nude scenes, her fame was always tied directly to her sexuality, a fate she accepted with regret.
“There was this perception of ‘Oh, she’s just a sexpot. She’s just a body. She probably can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.’” she told Men’s Health in 2012.
“A unique beauty who left her one of a kind groovy vibe wherever she went,” actor and comedian Sandra Bernhard tweeted in a tribute Wednesday, one of many Hollywood remembrances.
In an era when men often considered women largely ornamental, Welch earned a reputation for being strong-willed and independent. In 1970, at the peak of her fame, she took a role that no one wanted as a transgender woman in the film adaptation of Gore Vidal’s satirical novel “Myra Breckinridge.”
Welch said she asked to be in the movie because she was a fan of Vidal’s book and thought it would offer a dramatic role that might take her career in a new direction.
But, she said, the final script was stripped of the book’s off-color humor and absurdity that she had so enjoyed. Welch ended up hating the finished project, as did audiences and critics. The film, perhaps, became best known for the fight she had on set with her co-star, Mae West, over who got to wear a black dress.
“I couldn’t control that the script wasn’t coming together,” Welch said in her defense. “Each rewrite got further and further from making any sense.”
A decade later, Welch sued MGM when the studio replaced her with a much younger, more affordable Debra Winger in the 1982 film version of John Steinbeck’s World War II-era novel “Cannery Row.”
Welch claimed the studio fired her because of her age and to save money, in the process ruining her career just as she was poised to win recognition as a serious actor. The studio said she was let go for showing up late and taking too long in makeup.
After a six-year legal battle, she won a $14-million settlement. But in the process, she earned — rightly or wrongly — a reputation for being difficult, and her film career largely flickered out.
Welch blamed Hollywood’s reluctance to embrace older women for her diminished career.
“As life goes on you get more valuable as a person. Many women look better,” she told The Times in 2010. “Personally, I think I look better because I have lived and I have a different kind of aura about me having lived.”
Born Jo Raquel Tejada on Sept. 5, 1940, in Chicago, Welch was the oldest of three children. Her father was a Bolivian-born aeronautical engineer who moved his family to San Diego when Welch was a toddler to design aircrafts during World War II.
He was a volatile man who bullied the household, especially her mother, a seamstress of English descent. Welch once threatened him with a fireplace poker to protect her mother.
A star student, Welch started winning beauty pageants when she was 14, ultimately earning the state title of Maid of California in 1958, the year she graduated from high school. Though she attended San Diego State University on a drama scholarship, she dropped out to get married and take a job as a weather girl at a local TV station.
Welch married her high-school sweetheart, James Welch, and had two children by the time she was 21. After they separated, Welch moved to Los Angeles with her children to pursue acting. Within three years, she was a superstar.
She started out earning small roles in popular TV shows and films, such as her turn as a coed in Elvis Presley’s “Roustabout.” She got her first lead role as a bikini-clad know-it-all in the 1965 film “A Swingin’ Summer.”
After a screen test opposite James Coburn for the 1966 James Bond spoof “Our Man Flint,” she became one of the last contract players at 20th Century Fox to sign a multiyear deal.
One of the studio’s first moves, she said, was to suggest that she change her first name to Debbie, saying that Raquel “felt too ethnic.” She refused.
“I’m proud of my Bolivian heritage,” she told The Times years later.
She quickly landed a role as a doctor in the 1966 Oscar-winning drama “Fantastic Voyage” and then her career-making appearance in the prehistoric remake “One Million Years B.C.” That film’s poster launched her to stardom.
“In one fell swoop, everything in my life changed and everything about the real me was swept away,” she wrote in her 2010 memoir, “Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage.” “All else would be eclipsed by this bigger than life sex symbol.”
Welch went on to become a pop culture icon, equal parts self-mocking bombshell and glamour-driven variety-show host. She earned a Golden Globe for her demure role in the star-studded 1973 comedy “The Three Musketeers” and also starred in the roller-derby drama “Kansas City Bomber” and the neo-noir mystery “The Last of Sheila.”
In 1981, Welch starred on Broadway in the musical “Woman of the Year,” earning critical raves. She earned a Golden Globe nomination for portraying a woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease in the 1987 TV drama “Right to Die.”
During the 1990s, Welch appeared on several TV shows, co-starring with Lauren Hutton in the drama “C.P.W.” in 1996, appearing in a recurring role on “Spin City” and even playing herself on an episode of “Seinfeld.”
In the 2000s, Welch embraced her Latin heritage by co-starring in PBS’ Emmy-nominated series “American Family,” about a Latino family struggling in Los Angeles. She also had a scene-stealing role in the 2001 film “Legally Blonde” opposite Reese Witherspoon.
“So sad to hear about Raquel Welch’s passing. I loved working with her on Legally Blonde,” Witherspoon tweeted Wednesday. “She was elegant, professional and glamorous beyond belief. Simply stunning.”
In 2017, Welch co-starred in the ensemble comedy “How to Be a Latin Lover” with Rob Lowe and Salma Hayek and as the mother-in-law in the Up TV sitcom “Date My Dad.” More recently, she was known for developing her own successful wig line.
Though she believed they held her back, she didn’t regret taking on the sex-kitten roles that propelled her early career.
“I am not a fool,” she told The Times in 2010. “I realized when I came along, I wasn’t Meryl Streep who had been put into a bikini. I was somebody that got rocketed into the spotlight and superstardom overnight. I knew this was going to give me an opportunity and I should make the best of it.”
She is survived by son Damon James Welch and daughter Tahnee Welch. https://neuhoy.com/