The world’s most famous Mousketeer, Annette Funicello, died on Monday at the age of 70.
The Disney website announced her passing, which was a result of multiple sclerosis, according to the New York Times.
Funicello rose to fame in the 50’s when Walt Disney personally discovered her at a ballet recital and invited her on the popular show, “The Mickey Mouse Club”. She had previously done modeling work, won a beauty contest and was a practiced dancer and drum player; this was all before the age of 13.
After her appearance on “The Mickey Mouse Club”, Funicello became known as “America’s Girl Next Door.” She would receive up to 6,000 fan letters a week and the letters would frequently come with gifts, such as watches and even wedding rings. She reportedly returned all of them, which upset some of the fans who had saved money to buy her those things.
She was the most popular child actor on the show, and her merchandise became a cottage industry for Disney; they sold Annette Funicello lunchboxes, novels and even dolls. After her run on Disney, she starred in numerous teen beach party movies with fellow teen idol Frankie Avalon. Avalon mourned the loss on Monday.
“We have lost one of America’s sweethearts for generations upon generations,” said Avalon, according to CNN. “I am fortunate enough to have been friends with Annette as well as appear in many films, TV and appearances with her. She will live on forever, I will miss her and the world will miss her.”
Funicello had a well-known, 25 year-long battle with multiple sclerosis, which she was diagnosed with in 1987. She didn’t go public with her condition until 1992, when she founded the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases. The Fund still exists and raises money for the cure and treatment of multiple sclerosis.
“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,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a statement released Monday. “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. All of us at Disney join with family, friends, and fans around the world in celebrating her extraordinary life.”