Raquel Welch, Chicago-born Hollywood sex symbol, dies at 82

The actor broke out with roles in two 1966 hits: “Fantastic Voyage” and “One Million Years B.C.”

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Raquel Welch in 1968.

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Raquel Welch, whose emergence from the sea in a skimpy, furry bikini in the film “One Million Years B.C.” would propel her to international sex symbol status throughout the 1960s and ’70s, has died. She was 82.

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Welch died early Wednesday after a brief illness, according to her agent, Stephen LaManna of the talent agency Innovative Artists.

Welch’s breakthrough came in 1966’s campy prehistoric flick “One Million Years B.C.,” despite having a grand total of three lines. Clad in a brown doeskin bikini, she successfully evaded pterodactyls but not the notice of the public.

“I just thought it was a goofy dinosaur epic we’d be able to sweep under the carpet one day,” she told The Associated Press in 1981. “Wrong. It turned out that I was the Bo Derek of the season, the lady in the loin cloth about whom everyone said, ‘My God, what a bod’ and they expected to disappear overnight.”


Raquel Welch stars with John Richardson in the 1966 prehistoric epic “One Million Years B.C.”

Twentieth Century Fox

She did not, also appearing that year in “Fantastic Voyage,” as one of the submarine crewmates shrunk down and injected into a scientist’s bloodstream.

Welch then played Lust for the comedy team of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in their film “Bedazzled” in 1967 and a secret agent in the sexy spy spoof “Fathom” that same year.

Her curves and beauty captured pop culture attention, with Playboy crowning her the “most desired woman” of the ’70s. In 2013, she graced the No. 2 spot on Men’s Health’s “Hottest Women of All Time” list. In the film “The Shawshank Redemption,” a poster of Welch covers an escape tunnel — the last of three that character Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) used after Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe.

Admirers took to Twitter to mourn the star, including TV host Rosie O’Donnell, actor Chris Meloni and writer-director Paul Feig, who worked with Welch on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and called her “kind, funny and a true superstar whom I was pretty much in love with for most of my childhood. We’ve lost a true icon.”

In addition to acting, Welch was a singer and dancer. She surprised many critics — and won positive reviews — when she starred in the 1981 musical “Woman of the Year” on Broadway, replacing a vacationing Lauren Bacall. She returned to the Great White Way in 1997 in “Victor/Victoria.”

She knew that some people didn’t take her seriously because of her glamorous image. “I’m not Penny Marshall or Barbra Streisand,” she told the AP in 1993. “They’ll say, ‘Raquel Welch wants to direct? Give me a break.’ ”

Welch was born Jo-Raquel Tejada to a Bolivian father and Irish mother in Chicago. The couple had met at the University of Illinois and moved to Chicago, where they had their daughter and then moved to San Diego when she was 2. She grew up in La Jolla, California.


Raquel Welch attends the 16th Costume Designers Guild Awards on Feb. 22, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California.

Christopher Polk/Getty Images

She studied performing arts at San Diego State College, and worked as both a weather forecaster and model before landing her first film roles in 1964’s “A House Is Not a Home” and the Elvis Presley musical “Roustabout.”

Though she would appear in exploitative films, she also surprised many in the industry with fine performances, including in Richard Lester’s “The Three Musketeers,” which earned her a Golden Globe, and opposite James Coco in “Wild Party.” She was also nominated for a Globe in 1988 for the TV movie “Right to Die.”

She played herself and mocked divas in an episode of “Seinfeld,” memorably attacking Elaine and rattling Kramer.

Other big-screen credits included “Bandolero!” (1968), “Myra Breckinridge” (1970), “Kansas City Bomber” (1972) and “Mother, Jugs & Speed” (1976).

Married and divorced four times, she is survived by two children, Damon Welch and Tahnee Welch, who also became an actress, including landing a featured role in 1985’s “Cocoon.”

In addition to her acting achievements, Welch found success as a maker of wigs with Celebrity Signatures International Inc. During a 1999 appearance promoting the wigs at the Marshall Field’s State Street store, she told the Sun-Times she made sure the paparazzi never caught her off guard with messy hair.

“If you have an image, I feel you have an obligation to live up to it,” said Welch. “I feel I would be letting people down.

Her career, spanning 50 years, 30 films and 50 TV series and appearances, concluded with a role in the 2017 TV drama “Date My Dad,” co-starring Audrey Smallman and Barry Watson.

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