(Carmel Dagan’s article appeared in Variety, 2/15; via Pam Green; Photo: Corbis via Getty Images.)
Raquel Welch, the actor who became an icon and sex symbol thanks to films like “One Million Years B.C.” and “Three Musketeers,” died Wednesday in Los Angeles after a brief illness, her manager confirmed to Variety. She was 82.
She came onto the movie scene in 1966 with the sci-fi film “Fantastic Voyage” and the prehistoric adventure “One Million Years B.C.,” the latter of which established Welch as a sex symbol. The actor went on to appear in the controversial adaptation of Gore Vidal’s “Myra Beckrinridge,” “Kansas City Bomber” and Richard Lester’s delightful romps “The Three Musketeers” (1973), for which she won a Golden Globe, and “The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge” (1974). She was one of the first women to play the lead role — not the romantic interest — in a Western, 1971 revenge tale “Hannie Caulder” — an inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” (2003), according to the director.
(Earlier, Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford toplined 1952’s “Rancho Notorious” and 1954’s “Johnny Guitar,” respectively, but these were Western roles in which each actor held court, in effect; they didn’t ride the lonesome trail — like Clint Eastwood or Welch — bent on righting wrongs.)
Welch also showed some grit in the 1972 roller derby movie “Kansas City Bomber.” Variety said the film “provides a gutsy, sensitive and comprehensive look at the barbaric world of the roller derby. Rugged, brawling action will more than satisfy those who enjoy that type of commercial carnage, while the script explores deftly the cynical manipulation of players and audiences. Raquel Welch, who did a lot of her own skating, is most credible as the beauteous but tough star for whom team owner Kevin McCarthy has big plans. At the same time, Welch is torn between her professional life and her two fatherless children.”
Also in 1972, Welch appeared as a female cop who serves as a decoy in the hunt for a rapist in the police farce “Fuzz,” starring Burt Reynolds. The New York Times said: “The straightest performance is given by Raquel Welch, who isn’t around much of the time. When she is, she looks as irritated, but as resolutely patient, as Gloria Steinem defending women’s rights on a TV talk show.”
In 1973 she was part of the all-star ensemble for “The Last of Sheila,” a Herbert Ross-directed mystery movie famous for having been scripted by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins. Welch appeared along with Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Coburn, Joan Hackett, James Mason and Ian McShane.