Raquel Welch died on Wednesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was a curvy actress who became the first big American sex symbol in the 1960s and kept that image for 50 years in show business. She turned 82.
Her son, Damon Welch, said that she had died. There was no explanation.
Ms. Welch’s success in Hollywood began with a poster as much as it did with the movie it was for. In the 1966 movie “One Million Years B.C.,” she played a Pleistocene-era cave woman. She posed in a rocky prehistoric landscape wearing a torn doeskin bikini and took the spotlight by the throat with her defiant, alert-to-everything, take-no-prisoners stance and dancer’s body. She turned 26. Marilyn Monroe had been dead for four years, and the business needed a new goddess.
Camille Paglia, a critic of feminism, said that the picture on the poster was “the indelible image of a woman as queen of nature.” She went on to say that Ms. Welch was “like a lioness: fierce, passionate, and physically dangerous.”
When Playboy picked the 100 sexiest female stars of the 20th century in 1998, Ms. Welch came in third, right after Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. Brigitte Bardot came in at number 4.
Most of the time, the critics were mean. During her career, Ms. Welch was admired by the public more for her body than for her acting skills. She even called her memoir and self-help book, which came out in 2010, “Beyond the Cleavage.”
But when they saw how funny she could be, they were nicer to her. Ms. Welch won a Golden Globe for her role in Richard Lester’s 1973 version of “The Three Musketeers.” Her character was a hopelessly clumsy 17th-century Frenchwoman torn between two lives as a landlord’s wife and the queen’s seamstress.
Even though her career was largely based on her sexual appeal, Ms. Welch refused over and over to be naked on screen. “Personally, I always hated feeling so exposed and vulnerable” in love scenes, she wrote in her memoir. She also said that when she was in “The Wild Party” (1975), a prestigious Merchant Ivory movie, the famous judges of art-house taste pushed her to do a naked bedroom scene, but she refused.
“I’ve used my body and sex appeal to my advantage in my work, but I’ve never gone overboard,” she said. But she also said, “I keep some things for myself, and I don’t sell them.”
Jo-Raquel Tejada was born in Chicago on September 5, 1940. She was the oldest of three children to Armando Carlos Tejada, an aeronautical engineer from Bolivia, and Josephine Sarah (Hall) Tejada, an American of English descent. As students at the University of Illinois, they had met.
When Raquel was 2 years old, her family moved to Southern California because her dad was working for the war effort there. At age 7, her mother pushed her to join San Diego Junior Theater. Her only early disappointment was that she was cast as a boy in her first play. She started taking ballet classes that same year and kept doing so for ten years.
Rocky was her nickname at La Jolla High School in San Diego, where she graduated. Because she did well in local beauty pageants, she got a scholarship to study theatre at San Diego State College. But when she was 19, she quit school to marry her boyfriend from high school, James Wesley Welch. She got a job as the “weather girl” on KFMB, a San Diego TV station, because she was well-known in the area.
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