US actress Annette Funicello, who first gained fame as a “Mickey Mouse Club” member and later starred in 1960s “Beach Party” films, died Monday aged 70, entertainment giant Disney announced.
Funicello died of complications from multiple sclerosis, a disease she battled for over 25 years and whose sufferers she championed through charity work in later life.
She was one of the original “Mousketeers” on America’s “Mickey Mouse Club” variety television show in the 1950s, before growing into a star of the teen “Beach Party” movies in the 1960s.
Cast alongside teen idol Frankie Avalon, the raven-haired actress starred in “Beach Party” (1963), “Muscle Beach Party” (1964), “Bikini Beach” (1964), “Beach Blanket Bingo” (1965), and “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” (1965).
“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,” said Diane Disney Miller, daughter of Walt Disney.
“She was also the consummate professional, and had such great loyalty to my father,” she added.
Funicello was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1987, and went public with the illness in 1992, establishing The Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases.
Despite her health challenges she founded a business selling collectible teddy bears and launched her own perfume line, before withdrawing from public appearances in the late 1990s.
Walt Disney Company chairman Bob Iger 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.”