Raquel Welch was born as Jo Raquel Tejada on September 5, 1940, in Chicago, Illinois. She was the first child of Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo and Josephine Sarah Hall. Her father, Armando, was an aeronautical engineer from La Paz, Bolivia. When she was two years old her family moved to San Diego California where she attended the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church every Sunday with her mother.
As a young girl, Welch had the desire to be a performer and entertainer. She began studying ballet at age seven, but after ten years of study, she left the art at seventeen when her instructor told her she did not have the right body type for professional ballet companies. At age 14, she won beauty titles such as Miss Photogenic and Miss Contour. While attending La Jolla High School she won the title of Miss La Jolla and the title of Miss San Diego – the Fairest of the Fair – at the San Diego County Fair.
This long line of beauty contests eventually led to the state title of Maid of California. Her parents divorced when she finished her school years. Welch graduated with honors from high school in 1958. Seeking an acting career, Welch entered San Diego State College on a theater arts scholarship, and the following year she married her high school sweetheart, James Welch.
Welch got a job as a weather presenter at KFMB, a local San Diego television station. After her separation from James Welch, she moved with her two children to Dallas, where she made a “precarious living” as a model for Neiman Marcus and as a cocktail waitress. Raquel’s first major film was ‘A Swingin’ Summer’ where she played the role of Jeri.
The movie was a comedy and she also made her singing debut with it. A year after that, she starred in her second major film, the 1966 science fiction ‘Fantastic Voyage’ in which she portrayed a member of a medical team that is miniaturized and injected into the body of an injured diplomat with the mission to save his life. The film was a hit and made her a star. Prior to these bigger movies, she was cast in small roles in two films, “A House Is Not a Home” (1964) and the musical “Roustabout” (1964), an Elvis Presley film.
She also landed small roles on the television series “Bewitched”, “McHale’s Navy”, and “The Virginian” and appeared on the weekly variety series “The Hollywood Palace” as a billboard girl and presenter. She was one of many actresses who auditioned for the role of Mary Ann Summers on the television series “Gilligan’s Island”. In 1966, she appeared in the adventure/fantasy film “One Million Years B.C.”
She appeared as the lead in the film which was set in a fictional age of cavemen and dinosaurs. This role proved to be a life changer for Raquel and established her as the American sex symbol of the 1960s and 1970s.
I just thought it was a goofy dinosaur epic we’d be able to sweep under the carpet one day. Wrong. It turned out that I was the Bo Derek of the season, the lady in the loin cloth about whom everyone said, ‘My God, what a bod’ and they expected to disappear overnight.Raquel Welch
“One Million Years B.C.” is a 1966 British adventure fantasy film directed by Don Chaffey. The film was produced by Hammer Film Productions and Seven Arts and is a remake of the 1940 American fantasy film “One Million B.C.” The film stars Raquel Welch and John Richardson, set in a fictional age of cavemen and dinosaurs coexisting together. In 1967, she was in the British spy film “Fathom”. She played the lead role of Fathom Harvill, a skydiver who recovers an atomic triggering mechanism.
In the next few years, she was cast in major projects including one alongside Robert Wagner in the 1968 crime film, “The Biggest Bundle of Them All” and in films like “Bedazzled”, “Lady in Cement”, “Flareup”, and “Bandolero!”
The 1970 film, “The Beloved (a.k.a. Sin)” starred Raquel as a beautiful but frustrated housewife who starts an affair and then plans her husband’s murder. In the same year, she was cast in “Myra Breckinridge”, a comedy film based on Gore Vidal’s novel of the same name. During this period, she played a series of versatile roles which garnered her positive attention from the audience. She appeared in the 1971 film “Hannie Caulder”, where she played a gang rape victim who takes revenge on her rapists. She then starred alongside Richard Burton in the 1972 film “Bluebeard”.
She played K.C. Carr in the MGM film “Kansas City Bomber” which was directed by Jerrold Freedman and released in 1972. The same year she was Det. Eileen McHenry in the movie “Fuzz”. She was also a part of the “Musketeers” film series that was released in 1973-74. She played Constance Bonacieux in these films and won several accolades for her performance. She was cast alongside James Coco in the 1975 film, “The Wild Party”, where she played Queenie.
Raquel played a role in the TV film ‘The Legend of Walks Far Woman’ which aired on NBC, alongside Bradford Dillman. She has also made a notable contribution to television in films like “Right to Die”, “Scandal in a Small Town”, and “Torch Song”. She made appearances in “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” (1971), “Saturday Night Live” (1976), “The Muppet Show” (1978), and “Mork & Mindy” (1979).
Raquel made some appearances on Broadway and was the face of Lux Soaps, Foster Grant sunglasses, and her line of signature wigs collection and HAIRuWEAR extensions. Raquel also launched a Beauty and Fitness Program book and yoga videos. She also has her own jewelry and skincare line. She even released a dance single ‘This Girl’s Back in Town.’ In 2010, Raquel also published her autobiography titled ‘Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage.’
In 1996, she received a star at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1966, she married producer, Patrick Curtis. The couple divorced in 1972. Her third marriage was to the French-American television producer and journalist André Weinfeld. They met in 1977 and got married in 1980.
They were married for 10 years before separating in 1990. In 1997, Raquel met Los Angeles-based restaurateur Richard Palmer, who was then engaged, but later left his fiancée to pursue Raquel. Fifteen years her junior, Richard married Raquel in 1999. The pair separated in 2008. Raquel has expressed her intentions to not marry again and that she can live without a man.
Welch’s popularity and beauty landed her on over 100 magazine covers. She has been seen on Cosmopolitan, Life, Vogue, People, Playboy, Harpers, and many other major print publications. She loved the limelight of Las Vegas’s showrooms. Welch starred in shows like Women of the Year and Victor/Victora. Raquel Welch died Wednesday morning, February 15, 2023, following a brief illness. She is survived by her two children, Damon Welch and Tahnee Welch.