Sunni Welles, actress, jazz singer, Bill Cosby accuser, dies at 72

Sunni Welles has died at the age of 72 after a battle with lung cancer, multiple media outlets are reporting.

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Welles was a television actor, musician and performer.

She died Aug. 9 at a hospice care center in Downey, California, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

She was born Nancy Kay Rihl in Caracas, Venezuela before she and her family moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old. At the age of 10, she had her first roles on shows like “Leave It to Beaver” and “My Three Sons,” Variety reported.

She adopted her stage name Sunni when she was a teen using her nickname “Sunshine,” and “Welles” from writer Halsted Wells, whom she considered a surrogate father, Variety reported.

She became friends with Elvis Presley when she worked as a singer and dancer.

Welles married singer/actor John O’Banion and had one son, Shaun O’Banion.

In 2015, Welles accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault stemming from an incident in the 1960s when she was 17 years old. She had met Cosby when she was a child and again when she was 17 on the set of the show “I Spy” at Paramount Studios where her mother worked as a story editor, Welles said.

She recounted what happened in a statement released by her lawyer Gloria Allred, in which Welles said Cosby took her to a jazz club and she ordered a Coke. She said she didn’t remember leaving the club and woke up naked and alone in an apartment.

You can read her account of what happened here.

Welles was one of the nearly 60 women who accused the comedian and actor of sexual assault, rape, drugging and other sexual misconduct crimes. He was convicted of sexual assault in 2018 and sentenced to prison, but the conviction was overturned in June 2021 and he was released from prison, The Associated Press reported.

In 1979, Welles became a principal dancer with the Folies Bergère in Las Vegas. She was a jazz soloist in a band in the 1990s, Variety reported.

She moved to Santa Monica, California, working as a spiritual medium, author and speaker before she was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Welles is survived by her son, who confirmed her death, among other family members, Variety reported.