- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Sunni Welles, a singer, dancer and actress who was among the dozens of women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, has died. She was 72.
Welles died Monday at a hospice care center in Downey, California, after a brief battle with lung cancer, her son, Shaun O’Banion, announced.
Welles was born Nancy Kay Rihl in Caracas, Venezuela. Her father, Eugene, was an executive with Pan Am Airways, and her mother, Marykay, was a television story editor. The family came to the U.S. when she was 3.
Welles appeared as a child on Leave It to Beaver and My Three Sons and took her stage name as a teenager from her nickname “Sunshine” and the surname of screenwriter Halsted Welles (3:10 to Yuma), who was a surrogate father.
Welles said she was 17 and an aspiring singer in 1965 when she was victimized by Cosby. In a statement released by attorney Gloria Allred in 2015, she said she was introduced to the comedian-actor, then starring on NBC’s I Spy, by her mother, then a story editor at Paramount. She said her mom considered Cosby a friend.
Welles said she was drugged after drinking a Coke during two nights out with Cosby in Los Angeles at a jazz club and at the Magic Castle. Both times, she awakened the next day naked and alone in the same sparsely furnished apartment and “felt like she’d had sex.”
Cosby was released from prison in June after serving nearly three years of a three- to 10-year sentence for drugging and sexually assaulting Temple University sports administrator Andrea Constand in 2004.
In 1979, Welles moved to Nevada to work as a dancer with the Folies Bergère musical variety show in Las Vegas. She appeared in Steven Spielberg’s 1941 (1979) and on episodes of Quincy, M.E. and Trapper John, M.D. before performing as a jazz soloist with a band that toured California through the late ’90s.
Welles, who was briefly married to late singer-actor John O’Banion, worked as a spiritual medium, author and speaker before settling in Santa Monica, where she sheltered foster animals.
Survivors include her son, his partner, Petra, and their son, Indiana; her brother, Larry; and half-siblings Vivian, Cindy, Gene, Frank and Alan. A donation in her memory may be made to RAINN, which supports survivors of sexual violence.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day