Skip to main content

Actress Esther Williams, mermaid in the pool, dies at 91

By CNN Staff
June 10, 2013 -- Updated 1751 GMT (0151 HKT)
<a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/06/us/obit-esther-williams/index.html'>Esther Williams</a>, whose success as a competitive swimmer propelled her to Hollywood stardom during the 1940s and 1950s, died Thursday, June 6, in California, according to her spokesman. MGM created a special genre of "aqua musicals" starring Williams, including 1944's "Bathing Beauty." Esther Williams, whose success as a competitive swimmer propelled her to Hollywood stardom during the 1940s and 1950s, died Thursday, June 6, in California, according to her spokesman. MGM created a special genre of "aqua musicals" starring Williams, including 1944's "Bathing Beauty."
HIDE CAPTION
Esther Williams, a 'Bathing Beauty'
Esther Williams, a 'Bathing Beauty'
Esther Williams, a 'Bathing Beauty'
Esther Williams, a 'Bathing Beauty'
Esther Williams, a 'Bathing Beauty'
Esther Williams, a 'Bathing Beauty'
Esther Williams, a 'Bathing Beauty'
Esther Williams, a 'Bathing Beauty'
Esther Williams, a 'Bathing Beauty'
Esther Williams, a 'Bathing Beauty'
Esther Williams, a 'Bathing Beauty'
Esther Williams, a 'Bathing Beauty'
Esther Williams, a 'Bathing Beauty'
Esther Williams, a 'Bathing Beauty'
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Actress-swimmer Esther Williams passes away at 91
  • A natural talent, she soon turned to movies
  • Many of her films were colorful MGM spectacles

(CNN) -- Esther Williams, whose success as a competitive swimmer propelled her to stardom on the silver screen in the 1940s and 1950s, died Thursday in California, her spokesman said.

Williams, known for films that featured synchronized swimming spectacles, was 91.

She grew up in Southern California and was a U.S. swimming champion in freestyle and the breaststroke by her late teens. But her Olympic dreams ended in 1940, when the Summer Games were canceled because of World War II.

"That's one of my sad moments in my life," Williams told CNN's Larry King in November 1999. "It taught me how to live with a sad moment."

Her fortunes turned around quickly.

Esther Williams in 1999: MGM courted me
Click through to see people who passed away in 2013. Click through to see people who passed away in 2013.
People we lost in 2013
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: People we lost in 2013 Photos: People we lost in 2013

After an audition, she starred opposite Olympian and film star Johnny Weissmuller in the "San Francisco Aquacade Review," a "Broadway musical in swimsuits," her online biography reads.

MGM then signed her, and she made her movie debut alongside Mickey Rooney in the 1942 film "Andy Hardy's Double Life."

"They did a sequence where I swam with Mickey, underwater kiss, which was my idea," Williams told King. "They didn't think you could kiss anybody underwater without drowning."

Williams went on to appear in more than 20 films through the 1950s, including "Bathing Beauty," "Neptune's Daughter" and "Million Dollar Mermaid," taking many roles that featured her as a swimmer.

She was a 1966 honoree of the Florida-based International Swimming Hall of Fame.

"Her movie career played a major role in the promotion of swimming, making it attractive to the public, contributing to the growth of the sport as a public recreation for health, exercise, water safety -- and just plain fun," her biography on the hall of fame website reads.

In 1999, Williams penned "The Million Dollar Mermaid," a candid look at her career and life in Hollywood.

In several films, Williams played opposite Latin lovers, including Ricardo Montalban and Fernando Lamas, the latter her third husband.

Lamas' son, actor Lorenzo Lamas, paid tribute Thursday to his stepmother on Twitter: "The best swim teacher and soul mom RIP."

Williams and her fourth husband operated a swimwear company in recent years.

Then in her late 70s, Williams told King in 1999 she still swam daily.

"It is the best part of my day. I see what it does for women," Williams said. "I think I've invented the aerobics that you see at these retirement homes."

Williams will always be remembered for the Technicolor films and the fashionable swimsuits she wore.

Should a swimsuit maybe you look better than you are? King asked Williams

"It should make you certainly look as good as you are," she replied.

People we lost in 2013: The lives they lived

CNN's Phil Gast and Toby Lyles contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
January 6, 2014 -- Updated 0030 GMT (0830 HKT)
Click through our gallery to remember those we lost this year.
January 2, 2014 -- Updated 0055 GMT (0855 HKT)
Actor James Avery, who played the beloved Uncle Phil on the hit 1990s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," has died. He was 67.
January 1, 2014 -- Updated 1959 GMT (0359 HKT)
Dr. John W.V. Cordice, the surgeon who operated on Dr. Martin Luther King after he was stabbed in Harlem in 1958, died in Iowa. Cordice was 95.
January 2, 2014 -- Updated 0128 GMT (0928 HKT)
Joseph Ruskin died of natural causes in a Santa Monica, California, hospital. He was 89.
January 1, 2014 -- Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT)
Jeffrey Ian Pollack, who directed the popular 1990s films "Booty Call" and "Above the Rim" and produced "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" has died. He was 54.
December 23, 2013 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian gun designer whose AK-47 rifle became the weapon of choice for many national armies and guerrillas around the world, died.
December 22, 2013 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Ned Vizzini, who shot to fame at a young age for his teenage novels focusing on youth depression and anxieties, committed suicide at age 32.
December 19, 2013 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Al Goldstein, the foul-mouthed publisher of Screw magazine and pornography pioneer died in New York. He was 77.
December 31, 2013 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
Actor Daniel Escobar, who played a teacher in "Lizzie McGuire," died from complications of diabetes in Los Angeles. He was 49.
December 19, 2013 -- Updated 0041 GMT (0841 HKT)
"Great Train Robber" Ronnie Biggs -- one of the most notorious British criminals of the 20th century -- has died, his publisher told CNN. He was 84.
December 17, 2013 -- Updated 0117 GMT (0917 HKT)
Ray Price, the Nashville star whose trademark "shuffle" beat became a country music staple, has died at age 87, his agent said.
December 17, 2013 -- Updated 0223 GMT (1023 HKT)
Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine died, her longtime friend Noel Beutel said. She was 96.
December 16, 2013 -- Updated 1240 GMT (2040 HKT)
Actor Peter O'Toole died peacefully in a hospital at 81 years old.
December 16, 2013 -- Updated 1238 GMT (2038 HKT)
Tom Laughlin, the actor who wrote and starred in the "Billy Jack" films of the 1970s, died at age 82.
December 12, 2013 -- Updated 0056 GMT (0856 HKT)
Jazz guitarist Jim Hall, who played with the jazz greats of the 20th century and influenced the younger ones, has died, his family said. He was 83.
December 10, 2013 -- Updated 1346 GMT (2146 HKT)
Actress Eleanor Parker, nominated for three Oscars and known for her "Sound of Music" role, died Monday at 91, her family said.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 0440 GMT (1240 HKT)
Freedom fighter, statesman, moral compass and South Africa's symbol of the struggle against racial oppression.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 0218 GMT (1018 HKT)
Bill Beckwith, who co-hosted HGTV home-improvement show "Curb Appeal," has died. He was 38.
December 2, 2013 -- Updated 1458 GMT (2258 HKT)
Actor Paul Walker, who shot to fame as star of the high-octane street racing franchise "Fast & Furious," died in a car crash in Southern California. He was 40.
November 30, 2013 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Paul F. Crouch, co-founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, died at age 79.
November 29, 2013 -- Updated 2342 GMT (0742 HKT)
Jane Kean, who played diverse roles during a long career but was best known as Trixie on the TV revival of "The Honeymooners," has died. She was 90.
November 25, 2013 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Singer Wayne Mills, whose "outlaw country" songs center on honky-tonk life, died in a Nashville bar shooting.
ADVERTISEMENT