Raquel Welch, who captivated moviegoers in films like One Million Years B.C. and The Three Musketeers, died on Wednesday, Feb. 15 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 82.
"The legendary bombshell actress of film, television and stage, passed away peacefully early this morning after a brief illness," Welch's rep, Steve Sauer, said in a statement. "Her career spanned over 50 years starring in over 30 films and 50 television series and appearances."
Welch was born Jo Raquel Tejada on Sept. 5, 1940 in Chicago, Illinois, the eldest child of Bolivian-born Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo and American-born Josephine Sarah Hall. In 1942, her family moved to La Jolla, California, where she first discovered her desire to perform. As a girl, Welch studied ballet and participated in teen pageants, earning titles for Miss La Jolla and Miss San Diego.
"As a kid, I had a highly emotional nature and loved being swept away on flights of imagination," she wrote in her 2010 memoir, Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage. "In my mind, I was already grown-up and independent. I was simply waiting for the biological process to catch up with my vision."
In the early '60s, Welch moved to Los Angeles and began auditioning for films. Her career launched in 1966 playing the role of Cora Peterson in Richard Fleischer's sci-fi adventure, Fantastic Voyage, about a team of scientists shrunken and injected into a man's diseased body. (The film won Oscars for Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.)
That same year, she appeared as a prehistoric cavewoman, Loana, in Don Chaffey's fantasy film, One Million Years B.C. Though Welch had few lines in the film, her iconic image on the movie's poster — dressed in a fur bikini — established her as an international sex symbol.
"Contrary to popular myth, I didn’t just hatch out of an eagle’s nest, circa One Million Years B.C., clad in a doe-skin bikini. In fact, I was more surprised than anyone to find myself on location in such an exotic setting, high atop a volcanic mountain in the Canary Islands!" Welch wrote. "With the release of that famous movie poster, in one fell swoop, everything in my life changed and everything about the real me was swept away. All else would be eclipsed by this bigger-than-life sex symbol."
"The whole sex-symbol thing is part of what I do as an actress," she would say. "It's a kind of character I play. It's part of me, but not the whole me."
The actress went on to appear in the comedy Myra Breckinridge (1970), based on Gore Vidal's novel of the same name, the Western Hannie Caulder (1971), and the swashbuckling 1973 remake of The Three Musketeers, playing Constance de Bonacieux. She later reprised her role in the 1974 sequel, The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge.
Welch embraced her Hispanic heritage late in her career, starring as a melodramatic Mexican American aunt on the PBS series American Family (2002), and in the comedy How to Be a Latin Lover (2017), her final film role. "The essence of who I am is a Latina," she said in an interview, after announcing at a 2002 National Press Club luncheon, ''Latinos are here to stay. As citizen Raquel, I'm proud to be Latina.''
Welch is survived by her two children, Damon Welch and Tahnee Welch.
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