Esther Williams, star of MGM’s aquamusicals in the ’40s and ’50s, has died. She was 91.
Her publicist Harlan Boll tells the Associated Press that Williams died in her sleep on Thursday (June 6). She had been largely out of the public eye since the release of her 1999 memoir, “The Million Dollar Mermaid,” after suffering a handful of setbacks to her health.
In 2001, a fall down a flight of stairs in her Beverly Hills home resulted in a fractured ankle became infected, necessitating the use of a walker. In 2007, she suffered a stroke.
Williams began competing in amateur swimming competitions in the late 1930s, with hopes the she would make it onto the U.S. swim team for the 1940 Olympics. Those hopes were shattered when the Olympics were canceled due to the war in Europe. From there, a performance in the Aquacade at the 1940 San Francisco World’s Fair caught of the attention of MGM talent scouts, who signed her.
Her first movie was 1942’s “Andy Hardy’s Double Life,” opposite Mickey Rooney. She took her first dip in the MGM pool in 1944’s “Bathing Beauty,” marking her first film in Technicolor, which became the standard for her movie musicals, despite still being an industry rarity.
By the early ’60s, she’d begun a career in the bathing suit and backyard swimming pool businesses, and, in 1984, she finally made it to the Olympics, as a TV commentator for the synchronized swimming event.
Williams was married four times throughout her life. Her most notable was likely her third, to Latin actor Fernando Lamas, who insisted she give up her career. (She did.) Remaining married to Lamas until his death in 1982, she was a devoted stepmother to his son, actor Lorenzo Lamas. She had three children of her own, as well, from her second marriage.