- (Photo: Facebook/Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases)
Annette Funicello, star of the original "Mickey Mouse Club" has died at the age of 70. She suffered from multiple sclerosis but passed away peacefully in California, reports stated.
"Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mouseketeer, and a true Disney Legend. 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," Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, told Fox News.
"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," Iger added.
Funicello was hand-selected to appear on Walt Disney's show when she was just 13. She was an immediate sensation, receiving up to 8,000 fan letters per month, Fox News reported. Funicello was so popular that she only went by her first name throughout her appearance on the show, and she shared a special relationship with Disney.
"He was the dearest, kindest person, and truly was like a second father to me. He was a kid at heart," she was quoted as saying. After growing up on the "Mickey Mouse Club," Funicello went on to star in several beach films with co-star Frankie Avalon. Together they built an empire on the sand, appearing in "Muscle Beach Party," "Bikini Party," "Beach Blanket Bingo," and others.
She wrote about her extraordinary life experiences in her autobiography, "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and spoke about her battle with MS.
"My equilibrium is no more; it's just progressively getting worse. But I thank God I just didn't wake up one morning and not be able to walk. You learn to live with it. You learn to live with anything, you really do. I've always been religious. This just makes me appreciate the Lord even more because things could always be worse. I know he will see me through this."
Her family was by her side when she was taken off of life support, a representative told "Extra."
"She's on her toes dancing in heaven … no more MS. My brothers and I were there, holding her sweet hands when she left us," her daughter, Gina Gilardi said.
Watch an early clip of "The Mickey Mouse Club" HERE: