The Heartbreaking Death Of Raquel Welch

Raquel Welch has died at the age of 82 after a short illness, her family members have confirmed. She was born as Jo-Raquel Tejada in Chicago, Illinois on September 5, 1940 (per Britannica). As noted by, while she was still a toddler her family moved to La Jolla, California, where her father worked as an engineer. She took dance lessons as a child and became a cheerleader in high school. She also performed in school plays. Welch capitalized on her good looks through her participation in beauty pageants in California. She graduated from La Jolla High School.

After her first divorce, from childhood sweetheart James Welch in 1961, she worked as an actress and a model before deciding to pursue an acting career. Welch moved to Hollywood in 1963 and shortly after landed a manager (via Fandango). 

In 1964, she made her feature debut in the Elvis Presley film "Roustabout." The actress revealed details of that very first film experience, as reported by Elvis Presley Music. "I was a bit player in the opening moment," said Welch. "Like many adolescents of the '50s, I had been completely gaga over Elvis. When I saw him on the set of 'Roustabout,' I was a little bit taken aback because something had changed about him. It seemed like he was more packaged. His clothes were not the same, his hair was obviously dyed now, and it was all sprayed into place. It was a little shocking to me because it was a whitewashed, cleaned-up Elvis. They took all the sex out of him!"

Raquel Welch became known as a sex symbol

Raquel Welch became America's sex symbol when she appeared scantily clad in a bikini in the movie "One Million Years B.C." The resulting movie stills made her a sensation and cemented her sex symbol image. The film, however, was only a modest success, but other film roles were to come. Her role in "100 Rifles" ended up garnering her more media attention, largely thanks to an interracial love scene with football player Jim Brown — a rarity on screen in the 1960s (via The New York Times). "It broke new ground," she later told Variety of the film.

How Raquel Welch felt about her image

Of her sex symbol image, Welch said in an interview with Cigar Aficionado, "I think I was always more intimidated by my image than anyone else. I mean, there's a tremendous loss of self, because you really are in a job where this image has been created. You get tired, you wake up ugly, you don't have anything new to say to people and you feel like a lemon that's had all the juice squeezed out of it."

A hidden background

Raquel Welch never hid her Bolivian roots, but her background was not openly addressed in Hollywood early in her career. She once said her father, an immigrant from Bolivia, was determined to raise his children to be American, effectively cutting her off from her heritage. "He never spoke any Spanish in the home, so as not to have us have an accent. We never were in a neighborhood where there were other Latinos around. I didn't know any Latin people," she said in an interview with The New York Times.

”In a way, he didn't have a choice,” the sex symbol continued. ”There was a sense of shame on his part, of the confusion and the prejudice around against Latins. So he suffered a great deal. I suffered some. My suffering is more of a kind of psychological feeling of not knowing who I am.” 

Later in her career, she began to embrace her heritage more and started to study Spanish. She also appeared in the PBS series "American Family," a show about a Mexican American household in East Los Angeles that ran from 2002 to 2004 (via IMDb).

This is why Raquel Welch refused to change her first name

At the beginning of her career, Raquel Welch refused Hollywood's demand that she change her name to Debbie. Her father had named her Raquel after his mother, and she wanted to keep it. "People didn't like my name and they said it was too ethnic, too difficult to pronounce, too exotic," she once said in an interview (via ABC13). "They wanted to change it and I was not happy at all. I did really feel like Raquel." 

She would later learn that many of her fans named their infant daughters after her, leading her to state, "There are many Raquels walking around now."

As Welch once explained to The New York Times, keeping her name honored her family and also kept her connected to her roots. ”I thought, well, if I can't even have the Raquel, that's really selling out completely, that's really turning my back on everything that I really am," she said. 

A major movie star

Raquel Welch's jam-packed resume includes hits like "Myra Breckinridge" and "The Three Musketeers," the latter of which won her a Golden Globe for Best Film Comedy/Musical Actress (via the Golden Globe Awards website). Other notable standouts from her dozens of film and television credits include "Mother, Jugs, and Speed," "Bedazzled," "The Last of Sheila," "Fantastic Voyage," "Tortilla Soup," "How to Be a Latin Lover," "The Legend of Walks Far Woman," "Right to Die", and "Scandal in a Small Town."

Welch didn't restrict herself to the screen, though. Decades into her career, she would prove her talent on the stage. In 1981, she made her Broadway debut in "Woman of the Year" (via Playbill), taking over for Lauren Bacall, who originated the role (via The New York Times). In 1997, she returned to the Great White Way, taking over Julie Andrews' role in "Victor/Victoria" after Andrews experienced throat problems that forced her to step down from the production (via the Deseret News). 

Raquel Welch was married several times

Raquel Welch had fame and fortune, but her love life was rather tragic. In 1959 at the age of 18, Raquel Welch married her high school sweetheart James Welch. The couple divorced in 1961. She went on to marry Patrick Curtis in 1969. That marriage lasted through 1972. In 1980 she married André Weinfeld, and that union lasted for ten years through 1990. Almost a decade later, in 1999, she wed Richard Palmer. The couple separated in 2003 and later divorced. 

She later told Piers Morgan (via The Daily Mail) that she "had real feelings for all of those men" and really did see a future with them. Alas, it wasn't to be. "At the time I thought I was legitimately in love and that we could make a great life together, but it wasn't in the cards," she said. 

Welch revealed her theory about why her relationships didn't last in an interview with the Mirror. "They were swanning around being married to Raquel Welch," she said. "I never did get it right. And a lot of men don't like the fact that when we go somewhere I am the one who gets focused on."  

Welch is survived by her two children her daughter, Tahnee, and her son, Damon.