Actress And Silver Screen Siren Was 82

Raquel Welch, who rose to fame for her role in the sci-fi themed Fantastic Voyage and One Million Years B.C. in 1966, died today after a brief illness. She was 82.

Born Jo Raquel Tejada on September 5, 1940, in Chicago, Illinois, Welch began her career in local theater and as a weather forecaster on local San Diego station KFMB. After separating from her first husband, James Welch, she moved with her two children to Dallas, where she began modeling for Neiman Marcus and worked as a cocktail waitress to make ends meet.

After moving back to Los Angeles in 1963, Welch was cast in small roles in films A House Is Not a House and the Elvis Presley musical Roustabout, both in 1964. At the same time she began making the guest rounds on television in TV series like sitcoms Bewitched and McHale’s Navy, and western The Virginian. Welch also appeared weekly on the variety series The Hollywood Palace as a billboard girl and presenter, and auditioned for the role of Mary Ann Summers on Gilligan’s Island.

In 1965, Welch landed her first leading role in the beach party flick A Swingin’ Summer and appeared in a Life magazine layout called “The “The End of the Great Girl Drought!” Next was a contract with 20th Century Fox, which in addition to the aforementioned Fantastic Voyage and One Million Years B.C., led to roles in films like Shoot Loud…I Don’t Understand, Sex Quartet, and The Oldest Profession.

Other films of note for Welch included the comedy Bedazzled and the spy spoof Fathom, both in 1967; western 100 Rifles and thriller Flareup, both in 1969; Myra Breckinridge in 1970; and The Three Musketeers in 1973, which resulted in a Golden Globe win for Best Performance by an Actress in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television.

Welch returned as Constance Bonacieux in the sequel The Four Musketeers; followed by The Wild Party (1975), Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976), and Animal (1977), among other films at the time. She also hosted her own primetime variety special, Raquel!!; appeared opposite Robin Williams in an episode of sitcom Mork & Mindy; and appeared on Broadway in Woman of the Year in 1981.

In 1987, Welch was nominated for a Golden Globe in the TV movie Right to Die, playing a woman stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease. That same year she released the dance single This Girl’s Back In Town.

Welch was also a published author, penning memoir Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage in 2010, and was involved in a successful line of wigs. Also later in her career, she guest-starred on Lois & Clark, Seinfeld Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Spin City and CSI: Miami, and had a regularly scheduled role in the 2017 UPtv comedy Date My Dad.

Her survivors include her two children, Damon and Tahnee Welch.