Raquel Welch was born in 1940 in Chicago, Illinois as Jo Raquel Tejada. Her parents tended to fight and she spent her time at the movies to escape, as well as taking dance lessons. Her family moved to California, and by the time she was 15 she was already wining beauty contests there. She enrolled in San Diego State University and married her high school sweetheart James Welch at 19; however, they divorced in 1964, leaving Raquel the single mother of Tahnee and Damon. She found a job as "the billboard girl" on TV's "Hollywood Palace" variety show, and that led to a studio contract and brief appearances in many TV shows and movies.
Though they weren't her first lead roles, the appearances that made her a star to most people were the movies Fantastic Voyage (1966) and One Million Years B.C (1966). The publicity photos for the latter, where she wore a skimpy animal-hide garment , particularly cemented her image as a pin-up and sex symbol. This didn't always please her; she has said: "Being a sex symbol was rather like being a convict." To this day, Yahoo! Movies describes her as "More a sex goddess than an actress," which has got to be frustrating.
She joked about her own early performances, "I think that's clear -- that I never studied with the Actors
Studio before One Million Years B.C." However, she went on to win a Golden Globe in 1974 as Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, for The Three Musketeers, and when she made her acceptance speech for it, she cried and said she'd been waiting for this "since one million years B.C." She was also nominated for another Golden Globe in 1987 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV for "Right to Die." She's also done musical theater, and since June 1996 she's had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 1980, she was hired to star in Cannery Row, but was fired a month into production; the producers claimed she was unprofesional. She filed suit against MGM for damages; Burt Reynolds testified in her behalf that she "was always on time, well prepared, and thoroughly professional" and she was eventually awarded several million dollars.
She grew up in a family that was trying very hard to be mainstream American, despite the fact that her father was from Bolivia. The movie industry also wanted to play down her Hispanic side -- in fact, she had to fight to keep her own name rather than a stage name. Raquel was in her 30s before ever considering her Latin heritage, but since then she has appeared in projects that emphasize her Hispanic side, such as American Family and Tortilla Soup, and now identifies as a Latina.
In addition to continuing to act, she’s established a line of skin-care products — "Raquel Timeless Beauty Skincare" —and wigs; produced books and videos on yoga; and worked for women's health causes (as far back as 1974, she met with President Gerald Ford to raise awareness of anti-cancer efforts). Though she's recently broken up with her fourth husband, she still seems to be going strong in her career (and no one looking at a recent photo would guess that she's over 60!)