Esther Williams, a swimming champion turned movie star, died Thursday at the age of 91.

Born in 1921, Williams was raised in Los Angeles, where she spent her time swimming in local pools. At 16, she became a member of the Los Angeles Athletic Club’s swimming team and had already won three national championships in freestyle and the breaststroke. Williams was originally set to travel to Tokyo for the 1940 Olympics, but World War II led to the cancellation of the games.

In 1941, Williams was discovered by Billy Rose and was placed opposite Johnny Weissmuller in the San Francisco Aquacade review. After the show, MGM signed her to a contract.

Williams, also known as “Hollywood’s Mermaid,” was in over a dozen MGM musicals and movies through the 40s and 50s, many times performing underwater. Some of these movies included Bathing Beauty (1944) and Million Dollar Mermaid (1952). In the movie Million Dollar Mermaid, Williams was instructed to swan dive off a 50-foot platform. Her head snapped back on impact, breaking her back, and she spent the next six months wearing a cast.

Though she tried to break into movies that were not based around her swimming ability, the studio rejected the idea and audiences tended to not respond well to them. Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949) was her only non-water themed film that found box-office success.

Williams wrote an autobiography The Million Dollar Mermaid, which was her nickname while acting with MGM, in which she discussed growing up during the Depression to her rise as a movie star.

Williams’ publicist Harlan Boll announced that she had died in her sleep early Thursday morning.

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