Annette Funicello, beloved Mouseketeer, dies at 70


NBC News

Actress, singer and former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello has died at age 70, The Walt Disney Company confirmed in a statement Monday. Funicello "died peacefully from complications due to multiple sclerosis, a disease she battled for over 25 years," the company said. Funicello died at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, Calif.

"Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mouseketeer, and a true Disney legend," said Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger in a 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 disnity, bravery and grace," Iger went on to say. "All of us at Disney join with family, friends and fans around the world in celebrating her extraordinary life."

Born in Utica. N.Y., Funicello moved to California at age 4 and was discovered by Walt Disney himself at age 13. She was cast in "The Mickey Mouse Club," which debuted in 1955, and quickly became the most popular Mouseketeer.

She would move on to careers in both singing and acting, often combining the two, as when she sang and acted in the "Beach Party" movie series with teen idol Frankie Avalon. Her attire in those films was a topic of discussion, as it was widely reported that Disney asked Funicello to cover her navel even while in swimwear, and she wrote in her autobiography that she did so. But photos and websites point out that her navel was indeed exposed in three of the "Beach Party" films.