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Hollywood actress Raquel Welch dies, 82

Raquel Welch, whose emergence from the sea in a skimpy, furry bikini in the film One Million Years B.C. propelled her to international sex symbol status throughout the 1960s and ’70s, has died. She was 82.

Welch died on Wednesday (US time) after a brief illness, according to her agent, Stephen LaManna of the talent agency Innovative Artists.

Welch’s breakthrough came in 1966’s campy prehistoric flick One Million Years B.C., despite having a grand total of three lines. Clad in a brown doeskin bikini, she successfully evaded pterodactyls but not the notice of the public.

“I just thought it was a goofy dinosaur epic we’d be able to sweep under the carpet one day,” she told The Associated Press in 1981.

“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 as Loana in One Million Years B.C. Photo: Getty

She did not, playing Lust for the comedy team of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in their film Bedazzled in 1967 and a secret agent in the sexy spy spoof Fathom that same year.

Her curves and beauty captured pop culture attention, with Playboy crowning her the “most desired woman” of the 1970s, despite never being completely naked in the magazine. In 2013, she graced the No. 2 spot on Men’s Health‘s Hottest Women of All Time list.

In the film The Shawshank Redemption, a poster of Welch covers an escape tunnel – the last of three that character Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) used after Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe.

In addition to acting, Welch was a singer and dancer. She surprised many critics – and won positive reviews – when she starred in the 1981 musical Woman Of The Year on Broadway, replacing a vacationing Lauren Bacall. She returned to the Great White Way in 1997 in Victor/Victoria.

She knew that some people didn’t take her seriously because of her glamorous image.

“I’m not Penny Marshall or Barbra Streisand,” she told the AP in 1993.

“They’ll say, ‘Raquel Welch wants to direct? Give me a break.”‘

Earlier, in a 1972 appearance alongside Janis Joplin on The Dick Cavett Show, she had a snappy comeback when the host pointed out that people were often surprised at how smart she was.

“It’s very nice of you to say so but I don’t care about proving anything one way or the other,” Welch said.

Stars and fans added their tributes on Thursday. Among them was Reese Witherspoon.

“So sad to hear about Raquel Welch’s passing. I loved working with her on Legally Blonde. She was elegant , professional and glamorous beyond belief. Simply stunning. May all her angels carry her home,” she tweeted.

A tweet from the official Muppets account described her as “our remarkable friend” and “one of our favourite guests … from dancing with a giant spider, to inspiring Fozzie Bear and duetting with Miss Piggy, Raquel could do it all!”.

Actor Paul Feig added his tributes.

“This is so sad. I had the great pleasure of working with Ms Welch when I was a regular on Sabrina the Teenage Witch and she was awesome,” he tweeted.

“Kind, funny and a true superstar whom I was pretty much in love with for most of my childhood. We’ve lost a true icon.”

Welch was born Jo-Raquel Tejada in Chicago and raised in La Jolla, California. She was a divorced mother when she met former actor turned press agent, Patrick Curtis.

“The irony of it all is that even though people thought of me as a sex symbol, in reality I was a single mother of two small children!” she wrote in her autobiography, Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage.

Curtis became her manager and second husband and helped shape her into a glamour girl with hundreds of magazine covers and a string of movies, plus exercise videos and books like The Raquel Welch Total Beauty and Fitness Program.

Though she would appear in exploitative films, she also surprised many in the industry with fine performances, including in Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers, which earned her a Golden Globe, and opposite James Coco in Wild Party.

She was also nominated for a Globe in 1988 for the TV movie Right To Die. She played herself and mocked divas in an episode of Seinfeld, memorably attacking Elaine and rattling Kramer.

Married and divorced four times, she is survived by two children, Damon Welch and Tahnee Welch, who also became an actress, including landing a featured role in 1985’s Cocoon.

-with AAP

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