LOS ANGELES — Annette Funicello, the dark-haired darling of TV’s “The Mickey Mouse Club” in the 1950s who further cemented her status as a pop-culture icon in the ‘60s by teaming with Frankie Avalon in a popular series of “beach” movies, died Monday. She was 70.
Funicello, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1987 and became a spokeswoman for treatment of the chronic, often-debilitating disease of the central nervous system, died at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, Calif., Walt Disney Co. spokesman Howard Green said.
Funicello and her husband, Glen Holt, had moved from the Los Angeles area after a 2011 fire gutted their home in Encino.
Bob Iger, Disney’s chairman and chief executive, said: “Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word ‘Mousketeer,’ 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. 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.”
Funicello was a 12-year-old dance-school student when Walt Disney saw her performing the lead role in “Swan Lake” at her dance-school’s year-end recital at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank in the spring of 1955.
She joined a group of other talented young performers hired to become Mousketeers on “The Mickey Mouse Club,” the children’s variety show that debuted on ABC in October 1955 and quickly became a daily late-afternoon ritual for millions of young Americans.
Like her fellow female Mousketeers, Funicello wore a mouse-eared beanie, a blue pleated skirt, and a white, short-sleeved turtleneck sweater with her name emblazoned in block letters across her chest.