(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 Thursday.
She was 91.
Williams, who grew up in Southern California and was a U.S. swimming champion in freestyle and the breaststroke by her late teens, turned to acting after World War II canceled the 1940 Olympic Games, which she'd hoped to compete in, her official website says.
After an audition, she starred opposite Olympian and film star Johnny Weismuller in the "San Francisco Aquacade Review," a "Broadway musical in swimsuits," her biography reads.
MGM then signed her, and she made her movie debut alongside Mickey Rooney in the 1942 film "Andy Hardy's Double Life." She 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.