Actress Esther Williams has died in Los Angeles aged 91.
The swimming champion-turned-movie star’s spokesman said Esther Williams died peacefully in her sleep. She had been in declining health due to old age.
A national swimming champion by the time she was 16, Esther Williams’ success led to a career in Hollywood “aqua-musicals” designed just for her, in the 1940s.
She became known as Hollywood’s Mermaid, starring in films including Dangerous When Wet and Easy to Wed.
Esther Williams became one of cinema’s biggest box-office stars in the 1940s and 1950s, famously appearing in spectacular swimsuits that capitalized on her physical beauty.
Her films were typically lavish song-and-dance affairs, following the same formula of romance, music and comedy – held together by a lightweight plot that provided infinite excuses for the actress to get into the water.
Finales usually featured Esther Williams diving into a pool or lagoon and surfacing to a crescendo of music, with water glistening on her beaming face.
Her string of successful films included Thrill of a Romance, Fiesta, On an Island With You and Duchess of Idaho.
Co-stars included Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton, Ricardo Montalban and Howard Keel.
“I look at that girl and I like her,” Esther Williams said on watching her films decades later, Reuters reports.
“I can see why she became popular with audiences. There was an unassuming quality about her. She was certainly wholesome,” she said.
In the 1950s she attempted to branch out into non-swimming roles, but met with little success.
“I guess what MGM found was that my audience wanted that bathing suit,” Esther Williams said, when her autobiography was released in 1999.
“And you know, when Cinemascope came in and you’ve got that water all wrapped around you and they’d do big close-ups of me… I think it had too much pleasure connected with it for them to change it.”
Esther Williams retired from the movies in 1962, following her marriage to her third husband, Hollywood playboy Fernando Lamas.
In her later years Esther Williams hosted swimming events for ABC-TV’s coverage of the 1984 Olympic Games and turned her attention to business, launching her own line of swimwear.
Esther Williams was married to Fernando Lamas for 20 years until his death in 1982. She and her last husband Edward Bell lived in Los Angeles’ Beverly Hills.
Her autobiography also told of many romances, including one with actor Jeff Chandler.
According to Esther Williams, she discovered he was a cross-dresser and walked out, explaining: “Jeff, you’re too big for polka dots.”
Several of Jeff Chandler’s colleagues denied Esther Williams’ claims when the book was published.