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Happy Birthday to an Icon: When Raquel Welch Was ‘The Hottest Thing on Wheels’

The actress, who turns 75 on Sept. 5, once played a down and dirty queen of the roller rink

She may be best remembered for a revealing deer-skin bikini, but when LIFE Magazine profiled Raquel Welch in 1972, she donned roller skates instead. According to LIFE, the actress, who turns 75 on Sept. 5, was the “hottest thing on wheels,” throwing elbows and sustaining multiple injuries while filming the roller derby flick Kansas City Bomber.

The film, in which Welch plays a hardened derby star and single mother to a young Jodi Foster, may not have been a critical success, but Welch still believes it had something important to say. In a 2012 interview with GQ, when the Film Society of Lincoln Center was celebrating her body of work, Welch reflected on Kansas City Bomber’s depiction of gender relations in the early 1970s. “You have all those women out there, but the men in the front office are really running it,” she said of the roller derby world depicted in the film. “Which I thought was a really nice metaphor for the way a lot of women felt about their lives at that time.”

Over the past decade, Welch has mostly stepped back from acting to focus on charity work and family time. She’s also cautioned against the superficiality of the sex symbol status she held, and the assumptions people tend to make. “I felt like people had me on a pedestal, and they didn’t know there was this other person,” she told the AARP of that indelible bikini image, which was for the 1966 movie One Million Years B.C. “They saw the poster but they didn’t really know the story behind it.”

Bill Eppridge—LIFE MagazineRaquel Welch on the June 2, 1972 cover of LIFE magazine.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

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