Actress Raquel Welch, who helped redefine the traditional image of the Hollywood sex symbol with her portrayals of strong women in dozens of movies in the 1960s and ’70s, died on Wednesday (Feb 15) at age 82.
Her death following a brief illness was confirmed in a statement released by Jane McKnight, her Los Angeles-based manager.
Welch sprang to wide attention with her role in the 1966 sci-fi adventure Fantastic Voyage, playing a member of a miniaturised medical team injected into the body of an injured diplomat and memorable for the skin-tight diving suit she wore in one scene where she was attacked by antibodies.
Her success in that film was followed by an iconic appearance later the same year in the prehistoric fantasy drama One Million Years BC depicting cavemen and women coexisting with dinosaurs.
Although Welch had just a few lines of dialogue in BC, still photos of her appearance in a deer-skinned bikini made her a best-selling pinup and a global symbol.
Other screen credits in the late 1960s and early ’70s included starring roles in Bedazzled, Bandolero, 100 Rifles, Myra Breckinridge and Hannie Caulder.
She won a Golden Globe Award for best actress in a musical or comedy for her performance in the 1973 swashbuckling romp The Three Musketeers.
Her portrayal of strong, willful women was credited with reshaping stereotypes.
Playboy magazine once ranked her No 3 in its “100 Sexiest Stars of the 20th Century”, and though she posed for the magazine in 1979, she never did a fully nude photo shoot.
In a 2010 memoir and self-help guide titled Raquel: Beyond The Cleavage, she wrote: “I’ve definitely used my body and sex appeal to advantage in my work, but always within limits.”
She added: “I feel strongly that a woman’s mystery is part of her appeal; and the power of the imagination is more potent and provocative than graphic on-camera sex or explicit nudity.”
She was born Jo Raquel Tejada in Chicago. Her father was an aeronautical engineer from Bolivia. Her family moved to California when she was young. She later studied ballet before entering a series of beauty contests.
She briefly earned a living as a model and cocktail waitress before applying for film roles and breaking into the movie business with small 1964 roles in the drama A House Is Not A Home and the Elvis Presley musical Roustabout.
She went on to a career spanning more than half a century, appearing in more than 30 films and 50 television series, and as an entrepreneur was involved in a successful line of wigs, HairUWear, as well as a collection of jewellery and skin-care products.