(CNN) — Annette Funicello, one of the best-known members of the original 1950s “Mickey Mouse Club” and a star of numerous 1960s “beach party” films, died Monday at a California hospital of complications from multiple sclerosis, the Walt Disney Co. said.
She was 70.
Funicello was just 12 when she was selected by Walt Disney himself to be one of the original Mouseketeers of the “Mickey Mouse Club,” the 1950s television variety show aimed at children.
Funicello, who had a background in dance, quickly became one of the most popular Mouseketeers.
She “was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mouseketeer, and a true Disney Legend,” Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said.
“She will forever hold a place in our hearts as one of Walt Disney’s brightest stars, delighting an entire generation of baby boomers with her jubilant personality and endless talent,” Iger said in a statement released Monday. “Annette was well known for being as beautiful inside as she was on the outside, and she faced her physical challenges with dignity, bravery and grace. All of us at Disney join with family, friends, and fans around the world in celebrating her extraordinary life.”
She had been living in Shafter, California where she and her husband ran the The Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases Inc. She had been living with Multiple Sclerosis for more than 25 years.Last October, the fund had launched a year-long “Penny Campaign” fund-raising program to highlight how every penny donated to her charity counts.Also in October, Canadian TV (CTV) aired a 30-minute special about her life with Multiple Sclerosis. You can watch that special online: www.ctvnews.ca/w5.