Annette Funicello, who rose to fame as a Disney Mouseketeer, has died at age 70.
The actress passed away on Monday, April 8. She died peacefully from complications due to multiple sclerosis, a disease she battled for over 25 years, the official Walt Disney Fan Club, Disney D23, said in a statement.
Funicello passed away at a hospital in Bakersfield, California. The actress lived in Encino, a suburban neighborhood in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley with her second husband, Glen Holt, and nurse. Funicello is also survived by three children from her first marriage to Jack Gilardi and three grandchildren.
Funicello was born on Oct. 22, 1942, in Utica, New York and was a Mouseketeer on "The Mickey Mouse Club" in the 1950s. Her family moved to California when she was four years old and Walt Disney himself discovered her when she was 13. He saw her dancing the lead in the ballet "Swan Lake" at the Starlight Bowl in the city of Burbank.
"He invited her to audition for his new children's TV series called 'Mickey Mouse Club' and was hired on the spot to become a Mouseketeer," D23's statement said.
She also starred in Disney movies such as "Babes in Toyland" in 1961 and "The Monkey's Uncle" in 1951 and in the 1960s, appeared with teen heartthrob Frankie Avalon in several beach party films, such as "Beach Party," "Muscle Beach Party," "Bikini Beach" and "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini."
Funicello was named a Disney Legend in 1992, on her 50th birthday.
"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 D23's 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."
"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," he added. "All of us at Disney join with family, friends and fans around the world in celebrating her extraordinary life."