LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Singer and actress Annette Funicello has died at the age of 70, CBS2 confirmed Monday.
The former “Mickey Mouse Club” star was also a pop singer and acted in movies such as “Beach Party” and “Beach Blanket Bingo”.
Funicello died at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield from complications due to multiple sclerosis, which she battled for more than 25 years.
“Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mouseketeer, and a true Disney Legend,” Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company Bob Iger said in a statement. “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,” he said.
At age 13, Funicello was discovered by Walt Disney and asked to audition for “The Mickey Mouse Club,” for which she was hired on the spot.
“Everyone who knew Annette loved and respected her. She was one of the loveliest people I’ve ever known and was always so kind to everyone,” Diane Disney Miller, daughter of Walt Disney, said. “She was also the consummate professional and had such great loyalty to my father.”
Frankie Avalon, who starred in five Beach Party movies with Funicello, said she was truly as innocent as she appeared on screen.
“I would say, ‘Annette, people love you, they adore you,’ and she would look at me and say, ‘Really?’” Avalon said. “And I would say, ‘Annette, you have no idea, they just love you.’ But she was not really a part of being the celebrity that she really was.”
Funicello, who was diagnosed with MS in 1987, went public with her illness in the early 1990s when she established The Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases. It is an active charity dedicated to funding research into the cause, treatment and cure of multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases.
“It is so sad to lose a wonderful lady like Annette Funicello. I had so much fun working with her in those beach party pictures. She was a great trooper. My wife Barbara and I send our thoughts and prayers to her family,” comedian and actor Don Rickles said.
Flowers will be placed on her star at 6834 Hollywood Blvd. Monday at 1 p.m.