Swim in peace, America's Mermaid.

Esther Williams, a champion swimmer who became a movie star, has died. The 91-year-old passed away in her sleep, according to family spokesman Harlan Boll.

Called "America's Mermaid," Williams starred in several splashy, Technicolor "aquamusicals" in the 1940s and '50s, including "MIllion Dollar Mermaid," "Neptune's Daughter," and "Bathing Beauty."

As a teenager, Williams was a competitive swimmer who dreamed of going to the Olympics. But when the 1940 Games were canceled due to World War II, she joined the Aquacade at the San Francisco World's Fair alongside "Tarzan" star Johnny Weissmuller. There, she caught the eye of MGM scouts.

She acted opposite Mickey Rooney in her first movie, 1942's "Andy Hardy's Double Life." From there, a bathing suit-clad Williams became a sex symbol in a genre created just for her -- the aquamusical.

"No one had ever done a swimming movie before," she once said, "so we just made it up as we went along. I ad-libbed all my own underwater movements."

She retired from acting in the '60s and fell out of the spotlight, until she co-hosted the synchronized swimming event at the 1984 Olympics. In 2007, Williams admitted to Diane Sawyer that she'd suffered a stroke. And just three years ago, she attended a screening of "Neptune's Daughter" at the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival.

While her movies were frothy and fun, Williams wrote in her autobiography that her personal life was much choppier. She was married four times and had three children.

"The press portrayed me as a kind of post-World War II version of Martha Stewart -- 'the Mermaid Tycoon,' as I was dubbed on the cover of Life; the perfect homemaker; the Hollywood glamour queen; and a sex symbol in a bathing suit -- all rolled into one," Williams wrote in her autobiography, "The Million Dollar Mermaid."

"Meanwhile, for most of that time I was working 12-hour days in that huge pool at MGM, creating movie fantasies and then coming home each night to a personal life that seemed to repeatedly unravel."

categories Movies