Esther Williams, Hollywood Legend and Swimming Champion Dies at 91

Actress and champion swimmer Esther Williams, who showcased a combination of glamour and athleticism by starring in several spectacular and splashy MGM musicals of the 1940s and '50s, has died. She was 91.

Williams, one of the biggest box-office stars of the 1940s and 1950s, died peacefully in her sleep and had been in declining health due to old age, spokesman Harlan Boll said.

Esther Williams

Williams was famous for starring in a series of Technicolor "aqua musicals," which were popular in Hollywood in the 1940s and '50s. Her amphibious talents made her one of the most profitable actresses of her era, co-starring with celebrity heavyweights like Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly.

Although Williams had originally aspired to be on the 1940 Olympics swim team, the war overseas halted her dreams. Instead, she took her skills to the San Francisco World's Fair that same year, and soon after, was chosen among a bevy of swimming, starry-eyed hopefuls in a casting call. The rest is history.

Esther Jane Williams was born in Los Angeles on Aug. 8, 1921, the fifth and last child of Lou and Bula Williams. Her father was a sign painter; her maternal grandparents had come west to Utah in a Conestoga wagon after the Civil War. Unwanted by a mother who was tired of raising children, Esther was turned over to her 14-year-old sister, Maurine. The family’s chief breadwinner was her brother Stanton. A silent movie star at the age of 6, Stanton died of a twisted intestine when he was 16 and Esther was 8.

Esther Williams Picture Gallery

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As a young swimmer, she set what were then world records in the 100-meter freestyle and 880-yard relay. She also worked as a model.

esther williams mermaid
In her memoir, Million Dollar Mermaid, Williams described the critical response to Bathing Beauty as "glowing."

esther williams bathing beauty
She returned to the water for Bathing Beauty (1944) and Ziegfeld Follies (1946), both of which featured Williams in water ballets.

esther williams young
Raised in California, Williams was a champion swimmer when the outbreak of World War II derailed her ability to compete in the 1940 Summer Olympics. Her specialties were "male only" strokes like the butterfly. She held three national titles at the age of 16.

esther williams swimming
She worked for a nickel a day and used that money to access the pool, where the male lifeguards gave her swimming lessons. That's when she learned to master the previously men-only butterfly technique, which won her a gold medal in 1939 in the Amateur Athletic Union championship's 300-meter relay.

esther williams 2012
Her stepson, actor Lorenzo Lamas, wrote on his own page, “The best swim teacher and soul mom RIP #EstherWilliams.”
Esther Williams, Hollywood Legend and Swimming Champion Dies at 91 | Anonymous | 5


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