Raquel Welch Dies At 82, A Hollywood Legend Who Few Knew Had Bolivian Heritage
Hollywood legend Raquel Welch has died at the age of 82. The actress rose to fame for immediately iconic roles in 1960s films like “Fantastic Voyage” and “One Million Years B.C.” As per her manager, the half-Bolivian star “passed away peacefully early this morning after a brief illness.”
While Welch started out competing (and winning) in beauty pageants in California as a young teen, her heart was set on Hollywood. Working as a model and waitress with two young children in her early 20s, the actress hustled — and eventually made it. While the actress was born Jo Raquel Tejada, taking her last name from her Bolivian father, she took her first husband’s last name “Welch” as her stage name. Why? She knew her Latina name would lead to vicious typecasting, especially in that time period.
As Welch’s manager Steve Sauer noted, the star’s “career spanned over 50 years, starring in over 30 films and 50 television series and appearances.”
Even more, Welch won the 1974 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Musical or Comedy for her role in “The Three Musketeers,” no doubt an achievement she kept close to her heart.
While many remember Welch as an international sex symbol, particularly for wearing a fur bikini in “One Million Years, B.C.,” she took that title and ran with it. The actress was so much more, making ends meet as a single mom, pulling herself up by the bootstraps into stardom. She was funny, talented, a businesswoman (hello super-successful wig line), and she sang too. Check out this iconic clip singing “I’m A Woman” alongside Cher:
Moreover, something many people rarely realized was Welch’s true heritage. The actress was born to Bolivian father Armando Tejada, who married a woman of English descent named Josephine Hall.
As reported by The New York Times, Welch’s father was big on assimilation during her childhood in San Diego, California. Tejada banned speaking Spanish at home, so Welch had to learn the language later on as a full-blown adult. While her father moved from Bolivia to the U.S. to study engineering, the family never went back his birth-country together.
About her father, Welch said his approach was “a lie that worked as far as blending in,” but described how at the time, he didn’t have a choice. She said, “There was a sense of shame… the prejudice around against [Latinos]… He suffered a great deal.”
This erasure of her identity even gave the actress a few issues later in life. She said she had a “psychological feeling of not knowing” who she was. Still, even though she changed her last name for stardom and dyed her hair blonde, her first name was non-negotiable. While some execs pushed her to change “Raquel,” she refused. “If I can’t even have the Raquel, that’s really selling out completely, that’s really turning my back on everything that I really am.”
And that’s something Welch never did — she was always authentically herself. Rest In Peace.