On the air for more than 40 years, the Mickey Mouse Club launched the careers of many young men and women who would go on to earn acclaim in the realms of film, television, and music. Long before the Ryan Goslings, Justin Timberlakes, and Britney Spears we know and love, the Disney institution introduced Annette Funicello, an original Mouseketeer who won the world over as an actress-turned-pop singer. Sadly, Extra reports via confirmation from her family that Funicello has passed away following complications related to multiple sclerosis. Funicello died on Monday at the age of 70.
Following her preteen turn with The Mickey Mouse Club from 1955 to ’57, Utica, N.Y.-native Funicello embarked upon a career in film, starring in The Shaggy Dog (’59) and Babes in Toyland (’61), and in music; she released hits such as “Tall Paul,” “First Name Initial,” “O Dio Mio,” “Train of Love,” and “Pineapple Princess,” collaborating with Bob and Dick Sherman on each number. But Funicello’s most memorable contribution to pop culture was perhaps her everpresent role of Dee Dee, frequent cinematic beach-goer. Funicello appeared in each of Frankie Avalon’s memorable oceanside romps, Beach Party (’60), Muscle Beach Party (’64), Bikini Beach (’64… it was a sunny year), Beach Blanket Bingo (’65), and the late addition Back to the Beach (’87).
A 45-year-old Funicello quit acting after the latter picture, going public in the 1990s about her MS. In ’93, she launched the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders at the California Community Foundation, and published her autobiography, A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: My Story, the following year. The disease continued to plague Funicello, causing her to lose the ability to walk in ’04 and to speak in ’09.
Funicello is survived by her three children, including daughter Gina, who 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.”
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[Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images]