Annette Funicello, the Beach Party star, singer and former teen icon who rose to fame on the original Mickey Mouse Club, died Monday. She was 70.
Funicello died from complications of multiple sclerosis and was taken off life support after being in a coma for years, her family told Extra. She was diagnosed with the disease in 1987.
Her death was first announced by the official Disney fan club Twitter page.
Born in upstate New York and raised in California, Funicello was discovered in 1955 by Walt Disney when she performed as the Swan Queen in a Swan Lake dance recital in Burbank. He cast her as a Mouseketeer on The Mickey Mouse Club and she remains the only cast member to be selected by Disney himself. Funicello became one of the most popular stars of MMC, appearing in numerous sketches and serials, including Spin and Marty and Walt Disney Presents: Annette.
After leaving the show in 1959, Funicello continued to work closely with Disney, starring in the films The Shaggy Dog and Babes in Toyland, before launching a successful singing career. Billed as Annette, Funicello scored a number of hits, including "Tall Paul" and "Puppy Love."
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In 1963, she became a teen icon when she teamed with Frankie Avalon
for the comedy Beach Party
, which spawned a series of sequels and is credited for popularizing the beach party film genre. Disney notoriously requested that Funicello wear a one-piece suit in Beach Party
, but the actress donned her now-iconic modest two-piece suits in the sequels.
Funicello and Avalon continued to work together over the years. They parodied their beach party flicks in 1987's Back to the Beach
, made a cameo in 1989's Troop Beverly Hills
and appeared on Full House
. Funicello also guest-starred on the series Easy Does It... Starring Frankie Avalon
Her other credits include Zorro
and Growing Pains
After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Funicello first chose to keep it a secret, but was forced to go public in 1992 to refute rumors that she had lost the ability to walk because of alcoholism. She detailed her battle in her autobiography, A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: My Story
, which was published in 1994. Disney adapted it into a TV movie a year later, starring Eva LaRue
as Funicello, who appeared in a few scenes as herself.
Funicello is survived by her husband of 27 years, California harness racing horse breeder/trainer Glen Holt, and her three children from her first marriage to Jack Gilardi: sons Jack Gilardi Jr., a producer, and Jason Gilardi, and daughter Gina Portman.
Check out clips of Funicello on MMC
and in Beach Party