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. In a career spanning over five decades, Welch appeared in more than 30 movies and 50 television shows. She first won attention for her role in Fantastic Voyage (1966), after which she won a contract with 20th Century Fox. They lent her contract to the British studio Hammer Film Productions, for whom she made One Million Years B.C. (1966). Although Welch had only three lines of dialogue in the film, images of her in the doe-skin bikini became bestselling posters that turned her into an international sex symbol. She later starred in Bedazzled (1967), Bandolero! (1968), 100 Rifles (1969), Myra Breckinridge (1970), and Hannie Caulder (1971). She made several television variety specials.
Raquel was born in Chicago to Armando Tejada, who was an aeronautical engineer from La Paz, Bolivia, and Josephine Sarah Hall. The family moved from Illinois to San Diego, California, when Welch was two years old. Welch married her high school sweetheart, James Welch, on May 8, 1959, with whom she had two children, Damon Welch and actress Latanne “Tahnee” Welch (born December 26, 1961). In 1960, Welch got a job as a weather presenter at KFMB, a local San Diego television station. Because her family life and television duties were so demanding she decided to give up her drama classes. After her separation from James Welch, she moved with her two children to Dallas, where she made a “precarious living” as a model for Neiman Marcus and as a cocktail waitress.
Through her portrayal of strong female characters, which helped in her breaking the mold of the traditional sex symbol, Welch developed a unique film persona that made her an icon of the 1960s and 1970s. Her rise to stardom in the mid-1960s was partly credited with ending Hollywood’s vigorous promotion of the blonde bombshell. She won a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Musical or Comedy in 1974 for her performance in The Three Musketeers. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in Television Film for her performance in the film Right to Die (1987). In 1995, Welch was chosen by Empire magazine as one of the “100 Sexiest Stars in Film History”. Playboy ranked Welch No. 3 on their “100 Sexiest Stars of the Twentieth Century” list.
Welch’s most controversial role came in Myra Breckinridge (1970). She took the role as the film’s transsexual heroine in an attempt to be taken seriously as an actress. Her looks and fame led Playboy to dub her the “Most Desired Woman” of the 1970s. Welch presented at the Academy Award ceremony several times during the 1970s due to her popularity. She also acted in Kansas City Bomber, The Last of Sheila and The Three Musketeers and the sequel The Four Musketeers, Wild Party, Animal and the comedy Mother, Jugs & Speed in the 70s. In the 80s she acted on Broadway and also was in several tv films while also flirting with a singing career. In 2001, she had supporting roles in the comedy films Legally Blonde opposite Reese Witherspoon and Tortilla Soup. In 2002, she starred in the PBS series American Family, a story about a Mexican American family in East Los Angeles.
Most recently Welch appeared in a sitcom titled Date My Dad (2017) where she reunited with Robert Wagner on screen, four decades after starring together in The Biggest Bundle of Them All. She married producer Patrick Curtis in 1967 and divorced him in 1972. In 1980, she married producer André Weinfeld, divorcing him in 1990. Welch wed Richard Palmer, owner of Mulberry Street Pizzeria, in 1999 but then separated from him in 2003 and later divorced. Welch said she would not remarry.