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Raquel Welch: The Goddess Factor

From Cocktail Hostess to international icon, the actress-entertainer considers life beyond her sex symbol image.
David Giammarco
From the Print Edition:
Raquel Welch, Jul/Aug 01

(continued from page 4)

Welch would spend the rest of the decade away from feature films, instead focusing primarily on television dramas such as The Legend of Walks Far Woman and 1987's Right to Die, in which she earned a Golden Globe nomination for her moving portrayal of a woman dying from Lou Gehrig's disease.

Welch's business savvy also came into play in the '80s when she wrote the best-selling book, Raquel: The Raquel Welch Total Beauty and Fitness Program, and produced a series of yoga fitness videos that established her as a leading figure in the field. "I had discovered yoga when I was about 35 years old and it was like a panacea for me," she explains. "It got me through a lot of highs and lows in this business. In yoga, they say that real strength is in your flexibility. If you take an oak tree and you hit it with lightning, it's going to crack and break. But the reed, it flows back and forth in the wind and keeps coming back up. And that is the thing about me -- I always come back up."

But in 1990, Welch suffered another setback when her marriage to Weinfeld ended in divorce. She would devote most of the 1990s focusing on her career, mostly in comedic vehicles. She returned to the big screen after an absence of more than a decade for a cameo in the comedy Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult and guest-starred in numerous TV shows, from "Lois and Clark" and "Sabrina, The Teenage Witch" to a recurring role on "Spin City." She also did a hilariously memorable turn on "Seinfeld," in which Kramer (Michael Richards) faced the wrath of her amped-up diva behavior. "I was completely over the top with it," Welch says with a laugh. "And then when I saw it, I thought, 'I bet you people will actually believe that I'm really like that.' It was supposed to be a spoof of a diva, but maybe I did it too well!"

Soon after, Welch was back on Broadway, replacing an ailing Julie Andrews in the gender-bending musical Victor/Victoria. The problem-plagued production closed after six weeks, and Welch soon returned to television for the lead in the nighttime soap "Central Park West."

All the while, Welch had resolved to go it alone. "Since the time I was 15, I'd had one relationship right after the other," she says. "I thought maybe I was defining myself by the man in my life. I was thinking to myself, 'Don't look for love -- it's better just to live your life.' "

Welch's solo plan worked for a while, but then she met Richard Palmer, a Bronx-born actor turned businessman, now 45, who owns a successful chain of pizzeria restaurants in Southern California.

"It's funny, but when you're not paying attention and not looking for love is when it happens," Welch says with a distinct twinkle in her eyes. The couple wed in 1999, and Welch insists that the fourth time is the charm. "I hate to say it, but this time I'm taking it seriously," she says, smiling. "I think it's the first time I've been an adult in all my long life. I feel like I'd been playing adolescent; now I'm finally understanding. I mean, you can't always do the self-serving, fun thing or make the decisions that you would like to make all the time.

"After the '60s happened -- as great as it was to throw the whole culture on its ear and shake things up -- things became so hedonistic in the '70s and '80s, where everybody was just into pleasing themselves, to such a point that there was just no room for any relationship. Because that would mean you would have to really consider -- and not just be considerate -- all the time, 24 hours a day, someone else and their way of being. That's the totally unselfish thing. And you can't do that when you're walking around with adolescent behavior. I mean, it was fun, but I made so many mistakes that way."

It also helps, adds Welch, that Palmer isn't in show business. "I felt like I needed somebody really solid, somebody that I could rely on that isn't going all into trippy things in their head," she says, "and that they aren't also fighting with me over mirror time. Richie is a real man. I think we really make a great couple because there is something kind of strange about us. We're very different, from totally different worlds. But at the same time, we're very alike. So in a funny kind of way, that makes up for all the differences and helps us understand each other."

Welch has two feature films due for release this year. In the comedy Legally Blonde (costarring Reese Witherspoon), Welch plays the bitchy ex-wife of a murdered tycoon. "It's a hysterically funny movie," she enthuses. The other film, Tortilla Soup, is an independent production that carries great significance for Welch. She describes it as a Latin version of the 1994 Ang Lee film Eat Drink Man Woman -- with Hector Elizondo heading a Latin cast.


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