Sunni Welles, an American actress, and singer who was one of the many women to accuse Bill Cosby of sexual assault, has died. She was 72.
Welles’ son, Shaun O’Banion, shared the news on Twitter on Monday, writing, “It is with profound sadness that I announce that my mother, Sunni Kay Welles, passed away today at the age of 72.”
“If you have a moment, give a listen and think of her. She was an extraordinary woman,” O’Banion continued, sharing a link to a recording of Welles singing “Rio de Janeiro Blues” with her jazz band, Shiver.
Welles died on Monday August 9, at a hospice care center in Downey, California, after a battle with lung cancer, O’Banion confirmed in a statement to ET.
“My mother was a fighter, literally from the day she was born. My grandmother would tell me my mom ‘fit in the palm of her hand,’ and ‘looked like a baby bird.’ Throughout her life and career, she was also like lightning in a bottle and always championed the work and efforts of others… But what I think she would be most proud of, and certainly what I am most proud of is what I think will be her legacy: Her voice. Not her singing voice, although that was stellar, too…,” O’Banion added in a separate statement. “But her voice in speaking out publicly against the man who violated her and the fact that she and her sister survivors helped to change laws and, I hope, permanently alter the response to survivors of sexual assault. She was extraordinary in every way and I will miss her every day of my life.” he said
Welles’ acting career began when she was 10, with roles in popular TV shows including Leave It to Beaver and My Three Sons.
She later became an aspiring singer and moved to Las Vegas in 1979 to perform with the Folies Bergère musical variety show. She continued acting sporadically before turning her focus on being a jazz soloist with her band, which toured California in the 1990s.
In 2015, Welles was one of over 50 women to come forward with accusations of sexual assault against Cosby.
According to a statement released by Gloria Allred, who was representing Welles at the time, Welles claimed she was 17 years old when she went out to dinner with the comedian, after being introduced to him by her mom, who was a story editor at Paramount studios.
Welles claimed she went out with Cosby twice, and both times felt like she’d been drugged after drinking a Coke during their dinners. She alleged that on both occasions she blacked out remembered “waking up naked in a bed alone in a sparsely furnished apartment” all alone, and “felt as if I had had sex.”
Cosby was released from prison in June, after serving three years behind bars after being convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman in 2004. His was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, after the court found that an agreement Cosby had with a previous prosecutor prevented him from being charged in the case in the first place, according to documents obtained by ET at the time.
Welles is survived by her son, O’Banion, his partner Petra Hejduková and their son Indiana, as well as her brother Larry Rihl and step-siblings Vivian Harris, Cindy Kashdin, Gene Rihl, Frank Rihl, and Alan Rihl.