Hollywood Legend Raquel Welch Dead at 82

Hollywood legend and groundbreaking female actress Raquel Welch has died after a short illness at the age of 82. Welch was a major influence for women in Hollywood, despite being a sex symbol for most of her career. Her career spanned more than 50 years, 30 films, numerous television appearances, including at least a dozen on Johnny Carson.

Raquel Welch, the big-screen star of the 1960s and ’70s who gained fame in movies including Fantastic Voyage, One Million Years B.C., Myra Breckinridge and many others, died today after a brief illness. She was 82.

Welch’s career spanned more than 50 years, 30 films and scores of TV series and appearances, including about a dozen visits to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson spanning two decades. She also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Imagen Foundation in 2001.

Raquel Welch starred in such iconic films as Fantastic Voyage, where a group of scientists shrink themselves in an attempt to save a political leader after an assassination attempt, and One Million Years B.C.  where she played a clan cave woman in an age when humans and dinosaurs existed together. Perhaps most iconic and controversial, she played a transgender woman in Myra Breckinridge. Based on the satirical Gore Vidal novel that reportedly was the first whose main character underwent a sex-change operation, the 1970 film followed her character’s journey to Hollywood in search of stardom and a cut of her wealthy uncle’s estate. Undoubtedly that was a daring role that would get an actress canceled today. Welch was a fearless visionary, and likely wouldn’t have been cancelable.

Firmly established as a movie star, Welch continued her big-screen career opposite some of the era’s biggest stars. She appeared with Burt Reynolds in the 1972 cop comedy Fuzz; with Richard Burton in Bluebeard the same year; with James Coburn, Richard Benjamin and others in Herbert Ross’ The Last of Sheila, written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins; and opposite Richard Chamberlain, Oliver Reed and Michael York in 1973 The Three Musketeers.

Despite being a glamourous sex symbol, Raquel Welch was a serious activist and actress, and wasn’t afraid to upset the apple cart in an industry ran primarily by men. She famously sued MGM Studios for $24 million after being dumped from a role for a younger Debra Winger.

After trying to make peace by taking another role and being rebuffed by the studio then run by David Begelman, Welch hit back and sued MGM for $24 million.  

Making headlines all over the world, Welch alleged in her suit that the studio had built the movie and its financing around her and then used the hair-and-makeup dispute as a way to get a younger actress in the hooker role.  

The matter dragged on through the courts and appeals, but Welch ultimately was awarded a $10 million verdict in 1987 — which, of course, generated a whole new set of headlines for her.  

Welch’s career spanned into the 1990’s with guest appearances on “Seinfeld”, roles in Legally Blonde and the last Naked Gun installment with Leslie Neilson. She also appeared on Broadway.

Welch also appeared twice on Broadway. The first time in 1981, when she filled in for a vacationing Lauren Bacall in Woman of the Year. In 1997, she played the lead role of Victoria Grant in Victor/Victoria, replacing original star Julie Andrews.

Welch died after a short illness. She was truly a sex symbol, visionary, and groundbreaking feminist. Sadly, we live in an age lacking in class and grace, and Welch had both.

Despite her Golden Globes win and nom, Welch never earned an Oscar or Emmy nomination during her long career. But other accolades include an ALMA Award in 2001, a Western Heritage Award for The Legend of Walks Far Woman and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1996.

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


Notice: This article may contain commentary that reflects the author's opinion.

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