From an iconic fur bikini in 1966 to running men scared with her gunslinging in Western films, Raquel Welch was an award-winning American actress, and sex symbol, who mesmerized audiences for decades in more than fifty films.
Before she became known as one of the most beautiful women in cinema history, Welch was born Jo Raquel Tejada on September 5, 1940, in Chicago, Illinois. She was the firstborn to a Bolivian father and mother of English ancestry. When she was two, her family packed up and moved to San Diego, starting a new life in sunny California.
From an early age, Welch knew she wanted to perform and entertain. She started out in ballet and performed for ten years. She also lit up the stage in beauty pageants, winning numerous titles, including “Miss San Diego” and “Maid of California.”
Welch enrolled in San Diego State College but later dropped out to marry her high school boyfriend James Welch. She signed up for drama classes and landed a job as a weather broadcaster for the local TV station KFMB in San Diego. But with family and work, her schedule became demanding, and Welch stopped going to her drama classes. During this time, Welch gave birth to her son Damon Welch in 1959 and her daughter Latanne “Tahnee” Welch in 1961.
Welch and her husband separated in 1962, and she later moved to Los Angeles, California. Determined to make it in Hollywood, things began moving forward when she met her agent and future husband Patrick Curtis. They strategized on making her a star, capitalizing on her beauty. Welch landed a few small roles in films and television series in 1963 and ’64. In 1965, she got her big break when 20th Century Fox signed her to a seven-year non-exclusive, five-film deal. Her first film was Fantastic Voyage in 1966, where she was cast in a leading role. Welch played a technician, joining a medical team where everyone was turned microscopic and put inside a human body to save its life. The film was a success. But the following 1966 film, One Million Years B.C. was the break that launched Welch into a global sex icon that forever cemented her in pop culture history.
Welch ironically only had a couple of lines in the film. But her picture and image in a fur bikini that was dubbed as “Mankind’s first bikini” spoke volumes. The film used Welch wearing her fur bikini on the movie poster for its release in 1966, and a star was born. It became a best-selling poster, and Welch became a leading sex symbol of her time.
Welch starred in dozens of film and television series in the 1960s and 1970s. Welch went on to win a Golden Globe award for best actress in a motion picture comedy or musical for her role in the 1973 film The Three Musketeers. She lit up the screen slinging pistols in several Western films, including 1968’s Bandolero, and 1969’s 100 Rifles, set in Mexico. This film, 100 Rifles included love scenes with former NFL football star James Brown. She also was cast as the lead in 1971’s Western film Hannie Caulder, a story about a woman who teams up with a bounty killer who helps train her to be a gunfighter who’s seeking revenge.
Welch was married and divorced four times. Her husbands included James Welch (1959 to 1964), producer Patrick Curtis (1967 to 1974), French producer, director, and cinematographer Andre Weinfeld (1980 to 1990), and restaurant owner Richard Palmer (1999 to 2003). Raquel Welch died at age 82 on February 15, 2023. She is survived by her two children.
Throughout her life, Welch continued to star in numerous films and on television, performed on Broadway, and in 1994, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her last projects included the 2017 film How to Be a Latin Lover and a 2017 appearance on the sitcom Date My Dad. Decades have passed since Welch was catapulted to international fame for her iconic animal-skin bikini in One Million Years B.C. But like her beauty and career, Welch proved to Hollywood that she was tough and there to stay. And forever timeless.