Annette Funicello died on Monday from complications due to Multiple Sclerosis, a disease she battled for more than 25 years. Funicello died peacefully at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, Calif., the Disney company said. She was 70.
"Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mousketeer, and a true Disney Legend," Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, said in a statement.
"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".
Funicello stunned fans and friends in 1992 with the announcement about her ailment. Yet she was cheerful and upbeat, grappling with the disease with a courage that contrasted with her lightweight teen image of old.
The pretty, dark-haired Funicello was just 13 when she gained fame on Walt Disney's television kiddie "club," an amalgam of stories, songs and dance routines that ran from 1955 to 1959.
Cast after Walt Disney himself saw her at a dance recital, she soon began receiving 8,000 fan letters a month, 10 times more than any of the 23 other young performers. Her devotion to Walt Disney remained throughout her life.
Funicello was born October 22, 1942, in Utica, New York, and her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 4. She began taking dance lessons the following year and won a beauty contest at 9. Then came the discovery by Disney in 1955.
"I have been blessed to have a mentor like Walt Disney," she said 40 years later. "Those years were the happiest of my life. I felt that back then. I feel the same today".
Asked about the revisionist biographies that have portrayed Disney in a negative light, she said: "I don't know what went on in the conference rooms. I know what I saw. And he was wonderful".
In 1965, Funicello married her agent, Jack Gilardi, and they had three children, Gina, Jack and Jason. The couple divorced 18 years later, and in 1986 she married Glen Holt, a harness racehorse trainer.
After her film career ended, she devoted herself to her family. Her children sometimes appeared on the TV commercials she made for peanut butter.
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