LOS ANGELES: Esther Williams, a swimming champion who went on to become a star of Hollywood’s golden era in the 1940s and 1950s, died late Thursday at her home in Beverly Hills, her publicist told AFP.

Williams passed away peacefully in her sleep, the actress’s representative Harlan Boll said. She was 91.

A teenage swim star whose Olympic aspirations were thwarted by World War II, Williams was famous for making glitzy aquatic-themed movies featuring swimming and escapism for war-weary audiences. For a decade, she packed movie houses with her trademark mixture of athletic grace, apple-pie sincerity and stunningly glamorous swimwear that satisfied filmgoers coping with World War II rationing and a post-war economic crunch.

Her movies grossed nearly $90 million.

For “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952), the story of swimming champion and one-piece bathing suit advocate Annette Kellerman, Williams wore no less than 28 bathing suits - the show-stopper being a gold mesh unitard that covered her from her neck to fingers to toes.

She caught the public’s eye with her second film “Bathing Beauty” in 1942, and made 18 swimming movies in the next decade.–AFP