She was, and still is, a pop culture icon. If you don’t know her name, you’ve definitely seen the famous poster of the starlet wearing a fur bikini. Her part in One Million Years B.C. made her the poster girl of her time. Even though she hardly spoke in the 1966 film, it launched her into superstardom.
For someone who wrote an autobiography called Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage, she certainly knows what made her famous. But the woman is more than just killer looks, even in her 80s. Let’s do a deep dive into everything Raquel Welch.
How Old Is Raquel Welch?
Born on September 5, 1941 (in Chicago), Raquel Welch is now 81 (in 2022) and after all these years, she’s still known for strutting around in that fur bikini. In fact, the look was so iconic that Kim Kardashian channeled her inner Raquel in her own version of the fuzzy ensemble.
Model Emily Ratajkowski also paid homage to the famous outfit when she wore it for Halloween in 2018 on Jimmy Kimmel Live! That year, Welch told The Sunday Post, “It is nice to be noticed… I’m often asked if I get sick of talking about that bikini, but the truth is, I don’t,” adding that “it was a major event in my life so why not talk about it?”
“Me Loana … You Tumak”
One Million Years B.C. put Welch on the Hollywood map, despite her single line in the movie. She admitted that the fame following that film surprised her. “I had no other credentials as an actress outside of that one laughable line of dialogue: ‘Me Loana … You Tumak.’”
Welch said it felt like she “stumbled into a booby trap — pun intended.” She also said that she’s “living proof that a picture speaks a thousand words.” She actually thought the movie would be a flop, but instead it changed her life entirely.
She Posed for Playboy… With Her Clothes On
Welch became “It Girl” after that movie and was even dubbed the “most desired woman” the decade after by Playboy. The thing is, Hugh Hefner tried countless times to get her to pose nude, and she kept rejecting the offer. And yes, she was offered a lot of money.
“I am my father’s daughter and that’s just not the way you behave,” she explained to Piers Morgan later in life. Welch did eventually pose for Playboy, but she had her clothes on. It didn’t sit well with Hefner, though…
Hugh Hefner Called Her “Boring”
Welch recalled her conversation with Hefner at the time. She said to him, “What’s the problem, Hugh?” and he said, “Well there’s no t**s, and there’s no a**.” She said, “Isn’t that the deal we made?” He replied, “Yes, but it’s boring.”
He found it boring, but a deal is a deal. He still had to pay her. The good news is there wasn’t any bad blood between them. When Hefner passed away in 2017, Welch posted a tribute to him on Instagram, writing, “I’m gonna miss you Hef. You were always a standup guy! XX Rocky.”
She Married Her First Boyfriend
Welch has been married four times and is now single. She started her married life at an early age, marrying her first love, James Welch. “I’ll never forget the day I came running up the steps to my American government class and there he was,” Welch wrote in her book.
“He looked at me and smiled his crooked grin. It was instant attraction.” Believe it or not, they were both 15 at the time. He showered her with the affection she was hungry for, is how she put it. The high school sweethearts began an on-and-off relationship but eventually married in 1959.
They Were “Too Damn Young”
They had two kids together, Damon and Tahnee, but since James was her first of four marriages, it had to end at some point. They divorced in 1964 and the breakup, for Welch, was “the most painful decision of my entire life,” Welch wrote.
She said she should have stayed with him for their children’s sake. But Welch and James were so young and “didn’t have the serious relationship tools to manage” their kind of love. “We were both just too damn young.” Oh well, she moved on to husband number two…
Young, Single, and Ready to Mingle in Hollywood
While she was going through her first divorce, Welch started to think about what she wanted to do with her life. She was born and raised as an American but had international heritage thanks to her Spanish father. She always knew she wanted to do something big. She believed she was destined for greatness, but she still worked hard.
She took dancing lessons and entered (and won) beauty contests. She worked as a waitress in Dallas and worked modeling gigs to get a foot in Hollywood’s door. Not long after her divorce from James, she took the kids and moved to Hollywood.
She Hit the Ground Running
Welch hit Hollywood running. Aside from having her looks as an obvious advantage, she was also simply lucky. Within three days of landing in Tinseltown, she had herself a manager. Patrick Curtis started out as her manager but eventually made it to husband #2 status.
Thanks to Curtis, Welch started making the connections one needs to get ahead in Hollywood. The pair quickly launched their own promotional company, Curtwell Enterprises. As time went on, she gained more attention. But she still wasn’t Raquel Welch in those days…
From Raquel Tejada to Raquel Welch
During her early days in Hollywood, Welch was still going by her family name, Tejada. Pressure from inside the industry made her change her last name to something more American. In her memoir, she explained that people told her Tejada was too ethnic, too difficult to pronounce, and just too exotic.
Even Raquel was too exotic for Hollywood (studio execs suggested the name Debbie). But Welch didn’t want to change her name. Eventually, Curtis convinced her to start going by her ex-husband’s last name. And so, she became Raquel Welch.
Getting the World’s Attention in the 1960s
In 1965, she popped up in Life magazine in a stylish bikini, and from then on, she had the world’s attention. It was the first step to stardom. Thanks to that exposure, she got noticed by big wigs in the TV industry.
Before long, she landed her first role, a gig on the ABC series, Hollywood Palace. People tuned in to get a glimpse of the beautiful brunette. While on Hollywood Palace, Welch got some other uncredited appearances, like in the Elvis Presley movie Roustabout and Do Not Disturb.
Moving to England Changed Her Life
She went from TV to the pop musical movie, A Swingin’ Summer. Thanks to that role, 20th Century Fox made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. They cast her in the sci-fi movie Fantastic Voyage, which made her a real Hollywood hottie.
But then Fox decided to send Welch to England, where she was signed to the British film studio Hammer. Her first role for the new studio ended up changing her life. Yup, she was cast in One Million Years B.C. The rest is history, folks.
She Married Her Manager
After that, she starred in The Biggest Bundle of Them All and Le Fate, which made her even more famous. She had one man to thank for all her success: Curtis. By that point, their client-manager relationship had developed into something romantic.
The two fell in love and in 1967 they tied the knot. They soon became one of the biggest power couples in the industry. Now married (again), Welch dove into her work. In 1968, she starred in Bedazzled, in which she also showed some skin.
A Latino at Heart
She made her way back to Hollywood and back into Fox’s studio. They started casting her in movies alongside actors like Frank Sinatra, such as in Lady in Clement. She was also in Western Bandolero with James Stewart. Welch was now a bona fide star, but she never let her Latin heritage fade away.
She once said that being a mix of Anglo-Saxon and Latino blood, her Latin side will always win. In her memoir, she detailed how she always felt different from the other girls in school. Now in Hollywood, she didn’t want to be whitewashed.
Her Second Marriage Fizzled Away
Although she was generally universally adored, not everything in Welch’s life was going so smoothly. Her marriage was starting to hit the rocks, and by 1972, the couple announced they were splitting. Hollywood just always seems to be poison to long-lasting relationships.
Welch split her time between Europe and America, appearing at nightclubs for performances, on TV shows as a guest, and as a special guest at concert venues. But it was her upcoming venture that would grab more attention than the rest. I’m sure you’ve all heard of Playboy…
From Playboy to Court
In 1979, she appeared in Playboy – the spread that she refused to get naked for. Playboy wasn’t the only thing Welch stood her ground on. In 1980, she got a role in Cannery Row, and within a month of starting the production, MGM fired her.
She wasn’t going to just roll over and let them stomp all over her. So, she filed a lawsuit against the studio. She ended up winning the lawsuit and making 11 million dollars out of it. It was now established that Welch wasn’t just a looker; she was a fighter too.
Meeting Husband No. 3
The lucky guy was named André Weinfeld and he was a movie producer. Was the third time a charm? It certainly seemed so. Her third marriage for Welch was great for a while. Weinfeld was a source of joy and love for the actress, and he inspired her to be the best she could be.
In the 1987 show Right to Die, Welch gave what many say was her best performance of her career. She portrayed a woman suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was proving herself as a serious actress.
Divorcing Husband No. 3
Weinfeld said his marriage to Welch was a very happy one. But geographical distance drove them apart. Welch was a Hollywood girl, whereas Weinfeld was either in New York or Paris most of the time. Their ten years of marriage eventually came to an end.
When Raquel Welch was at the top of her career, she and Weinfeld were no longer. She kept on keeping on, of course, and branched out into different directions. She starred in the 1994 parody The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.
A Fixture of American Television
Other than movies, Welch popped up in infomercials and exercise videos. She became a fixture on television, especially when she started a role on the primetime soap opera CPW, and then took over for Julie Andrews in the Broadway production of Victor/Victoria.
She also played Aunt Dora, one of the most popular roles on American Family. She was going from project to project, and eventually moved on to a new man, too. A fan of marriage: Welch met her fourth husband, Richard Palmer.
Giving Marriage Another Try
She was willing to give marriage another try. This time, Richard Palmer, the owner of Mulberry Street Pizzeria, became Welch’s new husband. The two married in 1999. Unlike her last two husbands, Palmer was not in the industry at all.
He ran the mini chain of LA pizzerias, where some of the biggest names, from Frank Sinatra to Sylvester Stallone, would come and have a slice. Palmer was successful, as were the previous ones, but it looks like even the fourth time wasn’t a charm.
No More Marriages for Raquel Welch
Welch and Palmer separated a few years after walking down the aisle, and in 2008 they announced their divorce. Welch then declared that she was done with the idea of marriage. She was better suited to single life.
In her interview with Piers Morgan, he asked her why her marriages never worked out. She said she “doesn’t like to have a man.” Why? “Because I’m too set in my ways,” she said in 2015. “I like what I do, I actually enjoy being me and I make a very good living at it and I’m happy. I don’t have to have a man.”
It’s Not Easy Being Married to Raquel Welch
“He’s not going to support me, and a lot of men don’t like that,” Welch added. “I mean they like it in the beginning, they like the whole attraction and the sort of dance that we all do, but they don’t really like the fact that when we go someplace together, I become the person that’s focused on.”
Still, Welch doesn’t regret her marriages. “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.” When asked if she would ever consider getting married again, she replied, “I don’t think so. I’m not that good at it.”
Her Near Romance With Richard Burton
Welch hinted that she and Burton could have been more than friends when they made the 1972 movie Bluebeard. She told Oprah Winfrey about some of the leading men she dated over the years, including Bob Dylan, Dean Martin, and Burt Reynolds.
Welch wrote of Burton: “He’s like a heat-seeking missile, a smoking hot romantic.” In Bluebeard, Welch played a former nun. “I gave up my habit for Richard Burton,” she said. “My nun had some rather libidinous leanings, she was kind of a sexpot underneath.”
Her Passion for Elvis
Welch first saw Elvis in concert in 1956, when she was 15. By then, Heartbreak Hotel was already a radio hit, and she “couldn’t get enough of it.” When she saw him on stage, she “screamed [herself] silly.” To her, Elvis screamed sexuality.
In Hollywood, in 1964, she was amazed to see that her first job would be in an Elvis movie named Roustabout. Welch was a “day player” with one line. She got to meet Elvis briefly on the set, “but his hair was sprayed, he was wearing stiff pants and a wimpy windbreaker.”
She Didn’t Go to His Party
She said she was so disappointed that he wasn’t the same guy she saw in concert. After the shoot, however, one of his friends came over to Welch and said, “Elvis is having a party at his house. He thought you might like to come by and have some fun.”
Welch admitted to wondering why couldn’t he ask her himself? Even worse, she didn’t go. Whenever she heard Heartbreak Hotel, it reminded her of what a powerful force Elvis was. “Sometimes I get misty-eyed over the whole thing.”
A Fortunate Misunderstanding
Once Welch stopped being the pin-up girl of the times, she said her private life was very different from what she represented on the screen. She said in an interview that her personality was misunderstood – that she didn’t like to rock the boat or cause controversy.
Apparently, she was even surprised that she ever became a pin-up girl. She wasn’t brought up to think of herself in such a way, she noted; it wasn’t in her nature. “The fact that I became one is probably the loveliest, most glamorous, and fortunate misunderstanding.”
Too Exotic for Every Role
Welch explained once that she knew she wouldn’t get all the roles she wanted since she looked too exotic. Still, she endured a decades-long career with many incredible moments. And she never let anyone get her down.
Welch noted how much the culture of the industry has changed since her early days in Hollywood. “There are many Raquels walking around now,” she asserted. She was one of the first “exotic” starlets to become an international star, and thanks to Welch, we can now enjoy the talents of many men and women who might not have gotten the chance.
Meet Tahnee Welch
Tahnee Welch, her daughter from her first marriage, followed in her mother’s footsteps and went into acting herself. Tahnee is mostly known for her role in 1985’s sci-fi flick, Cocoon. Tahnee’s career started in 1983 when she was 22.
She also made appearances in a film named Amarsi un po and Sleeping Beauty before the eighties ended. She never matched her mom’s level of fame, though. But thanks to her mom, she landed appearances in magazines such as Vogue and GQ. Welch has a son, too, who got into acting as well…
Meet Damon Welch
Damon Welch, also from her first marriage, is the older of her two kids, and he has also worked as an actor. But he only had one role as an actor, in The Beloved, and it was uncredited. He did do a little behind-the-camera work, however, during the ‘70s and ‘80s.
He was a production assistant on J-Men Forever in 1979 and on Raquel: Total Beauty and Fitness in 1984. He appeared as himself in documentaries about his mother, in both Raquel Welch: Beyond the Fantasy in 1995 and Raquel Welch in 2001.
She Put Her Kids Second
Welch had a strained relationship with her kids while they were growing up. During her rise to fame, she admittedly put her career before her marriage and her children. She told Piers Morgan, teary-eyed, that she regrets “the many, many other times I wasn’t there for Damon and Tahnee.”
“I can’t replace those times and it hurts me and it’s hurt them probably worse because that’s their childhood and I’m their mother.” But, as they say, it’s better late than never. She has made amends with her adult children over the last decades.
On the Conservative Side
“In the past 10 years,” Welch stated in 2011, “I’ve made a concerted effort to think about what I have to do for other people, what I owe, what my part is in whatever relationship or situation I find myself in.” Getting older, she noted, “makes you think that way.”
As she got older, she started to voice her opinions in politics, too. Welch said on The O’Reilly Factor in 2014 that she was on the conservative side, which she credited to her mother’s midwestern upbringing.
Welch in Pop Culture
Welch changed popular culture in more ways than one. She made room for the non-blonde bombshells of the ‘50s and ‘60s, like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. Welch made space for the brunette beauties.
Her name even made its way into country songs. She also had a lead role in the Western film Hannie Caulder, as one of the first times a woman led a Western. She is also said to be an inspiration for iconic filmmaker Quentin Tarantino.
Awards and Stars
People have raved about her acting as much as they have about her beauty. Welch won a Golden Globe in 1974 for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Musical or Comedy for The Three Musketeers. She was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1987 for her role in the TV drama Right to Die.
In 1994, she received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2004 she was given the Imagen Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award for her promotion of Americans of Latin heritage. And in 2012, the Film Society of Lincoln Center presented a homage to her films.
She Tried Out for Gilligan’s Island
The producers of Gilligan’s Island missed a golden opportunity when they didn’t sign two different superstars, one of them being Welch, who auditioned for the role of Mary Ann Summers. She was one of the two girls vying for Gilligan’s attention.
The producers ended up choosing Dawn Wells, but let’s remember that this was back in 1964, before Welch’s career had taken off. The other superstar in line was none other than Jayne Mansfield, who auditioned for Ginger, landed it but then turned it down.
A Makeup Icon
Welch was called a Mac Cosmetics icon in 2007, when she was already 67 years old. According to Glamour, the makeup collection “was inspired by her movie star image: strong and wild, sophisticated and exotic.”
Welch can also thank Allan “Whitey” Snyder, whom Marie Claire reports was Hollywood’s go-to makeup artist during Welch’s prime. “I don’t find myself even the littlest bit sexy, but I can pretend,” Welch confessed to Piers Morgan. “I’m not in love with myself, or anything close to it.”
You Can Now Buy a Raquel Welch Wig
Welch was known for her big hair. She would teach women that bigger is really better (at least with hair) back when the bouffant was a signature look. In those days, it was all about the hairspray and backcombing.
Years later, Welch moved into the world of fake hair, finding herself in the area of wig design. Believe it or not, Welch makes wigs (in collaboration with HairUWear) and her styles are countless. She says she wears wigs in her everyday life. “With the aid of a wig, I have more versatility in my life, and so can you!” she wrote.
Embracing Her Latina Roots
It took Welch until the 2000s to truly begin embracing her Latina side. In an interview with The New York Times, she revealed that she’s happy to acknowledge this side of her. “There’s been kind of an empty place here in my heart and also in my work for a long, long time.”
She explained how her father “seemed indifferent to his heritage,” adding that it made her feel “like there was something wrong with being from Bolivia, ‘a third-world country.'” If Hollywood had their way, we would have known this starlet as Debbie Welch, a fake blonde who looked just like the rest.
Welch has referred to herself as the “Rodney Dangerfield of sex symbols.” What does that even mean? Well, she told Men’s Health that she never received the respect she deserved. She explained: “There was this perception of ‘Oh, she’s just a sexpot. She’s just a body. She probably can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.'”
In her first couple of movies, she had no dialogue. “It was frustrating.” But she realized that it came with the territory. Referring to Marilyn Monroe, she added that she always wondered why the actress seemed so unhappy… Well, she understood eventually.
She Puts What on Her Face?
Welch claims she has never had cosmetic surgery. So, what’s her secret? Udder cream, folks. It’s a balm farmers use to keep their cows without dry, cracked teats. It’s now being used to moisturize people’s faces. According to Welch, the cream is something to put on overnight.
A cosmetic dermatologist told Daily Mail that Bag Balm (one specific udder cream company) is essentially “souped-up Vaseline.” The main ingredient is petroleum jelly. But Bag Balm has an added benefit of warding off infections.
Her One-Woman Show in Vegas
For a number of years in the early ‘70s, Welch performed in a one-woman nightclub act in Las Vegas. She had a contract to perform at the Las Vegas Hilton, and she spoke about one specific night where Elvis Presley came in right after her.
“At his show he was dressed all in white, with bellbottoms with a little gold slit on the side, and a lot of jewelry and brocade coming down on his jacket and a high-neck collar,” she wrote. She said he looked like Liberace. She went to his dressing room, and he was very sweet to her and showed her all his jewelry.