Born Jo Raquel Tejada, Welch entered beauty contests as a teenager. She married at 19, but she and her husband divorced after having two children.
Jo Raquel Tejada was the oldest of three children and is the daughter of American Joesphine Sarah and Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo, a Bolivian of Spanish descent. She was raised in the Presbyterian religion and continues to attend church to this day.
Her first love was for ballet, which she learnt and participated in between the ages of seven and 17. However, she gave this up after her instructor told her she didn't have the right body. While still a high school student, she won the Fairest of the Fair beauty pageant at the San Diego Fair in 1958.
Raquel married her first husband James Welch at the age of 19 in 1959. She took his surname and the couple had Damon and Latanne.
Raquel worked as a model, waitress, and television weather-girl, before making her film debut in 1964, with a small role in the Elvis Presley vehicle, 'Roustabout'. She had moved with her children to Los Angeles after the break-up of her marriage and made bit appearances in TV shows, such as 'Bewitched', 'McHale's Navy' and 'The Virginian'.
Her first featured role was in the 1965 comedy 'A Swingin' Summer' which led to Welch being signed up by 20th Century Fox. She then made a name for herself in the sci-fi film 'Fantastic Voyage' in 1966, which was a hit and made her a star.
Increasingly famous as a sex symbol, after her scantily clad appearance in 'One Million Years BC' in 1966, Welch's image was rarely challenged by later roles, which included 'The Biggest Bundle of Them All' (1968) and '100 Rifles' (1969).
In an effort to shed her sex kitten image, Welch starred in the disastrous film adaptation of 'Myra Breckenridge' (1970), based on the intellectual and risque novel by Gore Vidal. She received a Best Actress Golden Globe Award for her part in 'The Three Musketeers' in 1972, but failed to find much success in her subsequent projects, receiving little attention or respect in Hollywood after the failure of the 1976 black comedy, 'Mother, Jugs and Speed'.
Despite mediocre film work, Welch continued to be regarded as a great beauty, and her career went on to include nightclub entertaining, and the Broadway musical 'Woman of the Year' in 1982.
The same year saw her land a role in an adaptation of John Steinbeck's 'Cannery Row' only for her to be fired and replaced with a younger Debra Winger. Their explanation that the then 40-year-old was too old to play the character did not go down well with Welch, who successfully sued MGM and won $10 million in compensation.
She went on to star in the TV movie 'Right to Die' (1987) and followed this with 'Scandal in a Small Town' (1988), 'Trouble in Paradise' (1989), 'Tainted Blood' (1993) and 'Torch Song' (1993). She then returned to film with cameo appearances in the movies 'Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult' (1994), 'Chairman of the Board' (1998), 'What I Did for Love' (1998) and 'Legally Blonde' in 2001.
She also made a return to TV starring in 'Spin City' between 1997 and 2000, 'American Family' in 2002 and '8 Simple Rules … of Dating my Teenage Daughter' (2005). Raquel was most recently seen in the 2008 TV series 'Welcome to the Captain' and an episode of 'CSI: Miami' in 2012.
Her enduring image as a sex symbol was highlighted in 1995 when Empire magazine named her as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history, ranking her 18th.
Following the collapse of her first marriage to publicist and agent James Welch, which ended in divorce in 1964, the screen siren went to have three more failed marriages. She married director and producer Patrick Curtis in 1967 and divorced him in 1972 and went on to wed Andre Weinfeld in 1980 before the union ended ten years later. Another attempt with Richard Palmer in 1999 ended in separation in 2010.
She is a major activist for women's rights and health issues, and has produced a fitness programme as well as her own lines of wigs and beauty products.