Raquel Welch, 1940-2023

A Hollywood star is gone at 82.

NPR (“Raquel Welch, actress and Hollywood sex symbol, dead at 82“):

Raquel Welch, who rose to fame as a sex symbol in the 1960s, has died. She was 82.

Welch’s son, Damon, confirmed she died Wednesday at her home in Los Angeles after a brief illness.

“She passed away with no pain,” he said. “I’m very proud about what she contributed to society and her career and everything. I’m most proud of her doing the U.S.O tours with Bob Hope during the late 60s and early 70s. We missed Christmas with her for three years while she was doing that. She said that was the hardest thing.”

Welch’s career started in the 1960s with appearances on TV shows such as The VirginianMcHale’s Navy and Bewitched. That paved the way for back-to-back roles in Fantastic Voyage, and One Million Years B.C. That latter role catapulted her to sex symbol status. Welch would go on to star in several films, including 1970’s Myra Breckinridge, where she played a trans actress, and The Three Musketeers, which earned her a Golden Globe in 1974 for best actress in a motion picture comedy or musical.

She leaves behind her two children, her son Damon Welch and her daughter, Tahnee Welch.

Welch was born Jo-Raquel Tejada in Chicago, Illinois to a Bolivian father and an American mother.

Though she didn’t often discuss her identity in the early years of her career, the actress embraced her Latinidad in the early 2000s, both by speaking openly about her background and by playing Latina roles like Aunt Dora in the PBS show American Family and Hortensia in the film Tortilla Soup.

“Raquel Welch was a screen legend during a time when Latinos rarely were given any work in Hollywood (unless it was a stereotype),” said film critic and Entertainment Weekly editor Yolanda Machado. “She had to hide her identity to succeed, and despite what a heavy weight that may have been to conceal, she triumphed in memorable performances that stand as a portal into an entire generation.”

Welch told the New York Times in 2002 that though she didn’t try to intentionally cover up her Bolivian heritage, it wasn’t a significant part of her culture at home because of her father’s attempts to assimilate as much as possible.

“Those people who wanted to make it in the American system found it necessary and desirable to kind of suppress their Latino quality,” she explained. “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.”

Welch went on to say that though she partially resented his erasure of their background, she understood he was trying to protect the family from facing prejudice and discrimination.

Welch was born three years before my parents and, by the time I was aware of her, was well into middle age. She was just one of those celebrities that seemed to have always been around, making the circuit of the late-night talk shows, the Bob Hope specials, various variety shows, and the like.

She was extraordinarily beautiful, even by Hollywood standards, and leveraged that into a career as an actress despite little initial acting talent. She got cast in roles that exploited her body, turning her into a “sex symbol,” but was extremely uncomfortable with that and turned down nude scenes and ultimately wound up in real acting roles, managing to continue finding roles well into her 70s.

The first movie I remember seeing her in was “Mother, Jugs, and Speed,” a weird 1976 flick in which she played one of the title characters alongside Bill Cosby and Harvey Keitel. I don’t recall it being good but may well not have been the target audience.

Aside from her ubiquity in my childhood, the thing I probably most remember her by at this point is her poster in Andy Dufresne’s cell in “Shawshank Redemption.”

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James Joyner
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  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    It surprised me that she was only 82, probably because I’ve been aware of her for so long.

    RIP Raquel.

  2. CSK says:

    I saw her once on a talk show, and she seemed extraordinarily pleasant and down-to-earth, as well as gorgeous, of course.

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    When women you jerked off to as a teenager start dying of old age. . .

  4. Jay L Gischer says:

    I remember seeing One Million Years B.C. in theaters. In an ultra-wide-screen format called Panavision, I think. I was maybe 10, and not quite old enough to understand just how exploitative that movie was. Because Dinosaurs! I knew, even then, that dinosaurs and humans did not co-exist, but that was ok, because I was nuts about dinosaurs.

    I saw Fantastic Voyage too, and that was really cool too.

  5. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Jay L Gischer: I remember seeing Fantastic Voyage. You would think there wouldn’t be any sex symbol material in it but when RW is attacked by white blood cells the male crew members have to tear her wetsuit off of her.

  6. Kathy says:

    @Mr. Prosser:

    That’s about the only scene I recall from that movie, and probably because The Simpsons parodied it in a Halloween episode.

    Fantastic Voyage was shown often on Sundays by TV networks in the 70s. Typically they showed movies in the afternoon. I must have seen it more than once.

    Asimov was commissioned to write a novelization, which I read (bad move), and eventually wrote an original sequel sometime in the 80s, which I also read (better, but definitely near the bottom of his works).

  7. Michael Cain says:

    When I first saw Fantastic Voyage I knew enough science to ask, “But where did the mass go?” Because if you can make mass come and go like that, there’s so many more interesting things to do than shrink things down that far.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Michael Cain:

    “But where did the mass go?”

    Ran into this issue with ANIMORPHS. Let’s say you’re a 100 pound kid morphing to dragonfly, what happens to the 99.999 pounds? Easy: Zero Space. (Or, as the cool kids call it, Z-Space.) A dimension of nothingness which can be used to store mass safely. And ever so conveniently.

    I’d share the mathematical calculations behind it all, but I wouldn’t want to bore people with a bunch of extremely real scientific scribbling.

    Where’s my Nobel?

  9. Kathy says:

    @Michael Cain:
    @Michael Reynolds:

    As I recall from Asimov’s memoir, when he novelized the movie he had an issue. Apparently there had been a bad guy among the micronauts, and he got killed inside the patient’s body by a generic white blood cell. In the movie he’s left there. Asimov maintained that would kill the patient, as the bad guy’s remains would expand back to their normal size when the time was up, even if he was dead.

    So, in the novel someone has to figure out a way to get the white blood cell to follow the submarine and be taken out of the body.

  10. CSK says:

    Welch once told Dick Cavett (I think) that the female brain was an erogenous zone, and I believe she was quite correct.

  11. Barry says:

    I will remember her fondly.

  12. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Where’s my Nobel?

    I think that rates a Trumpist “Noble” prize. Or maybe an Ig Noble prize.

  13. anjin-san says:

    In the fifth grade, I somehow managed to fast talk our teacher into letting me put the legendary Raquel Welch American flag shirt poster up in our classroom, where it stayed for a few weeks until a parent entered the classroom and proceeded to blow her top. Thus was my reputation for being a “bright but difficult” student born…