Annette Funicello, Original Mouseketeer, Dead at 70
Annette Funicello in 'The Mickey Mouse Club' (Getty Images)
Annette Funicello in the 'Beach Party' movies of the 1960s (Everett Collection)
Annette Funicello, a member of Disney's original "Mickey Mouse Club" from the 1950s, is dead at the age of 70 from complications of multiple sclerosis, a disease that she's battled since 1992. She died peacefully at her home in Bakersfield, California.
Funicello was born on October 22, 1942, in Utica, New York; her family moved to Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley when she was just 4 years old. Walt Disney himself discovered her when, at the age of 13, she was dancing the lead in "Swan Lake" at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank. He invited her to audition for "The Mickey Mouse Club" and hired her on the spot.
After the show's debut on October 3, 1955, she quickly became the group's most popular member. The series ran for three years and continued in reruns through the 1990s. The show was later revived in the early '90s, featuring future stars including Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, and Ryan Gosling.
Funicello remained under contract with Disney and starred in TV shows like "Zorro" (1957) and "The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca" (1958). She also appeared in Disney movies such as "The Shaggy Dog" (1959), "Babes in Toyland" (1961), "The Misadventures of Merlin Jones" (1964), and "The Monkey's Uncle" (1965).