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Passings: Annette Funicello (1942 - 2013)

America's Sweetheart, Annette Funicello, has died from complications of the multiple sclerosis from which she has suffered for 25 years. She was 70.

The Official Disney Fan Club, D23, made the announcement early Monday afternoon:
We're sorry to report beloved Disney Mouseketeer and iconic teen star Annette Funicello has passed away at age 70.
Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of the Disney Company, released a statement saying:
Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mousketeer, and a true Disney Legend. 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. All of us at Disney join with family, friends, and fans around the world in celebrating her extraordinary life.
Diane Disney Miller, daughter of Walt Disney, added:
Everyone who knew Annette loved and respected her. She was one of the loveliest people I’ve ever known, and was always so kind to everyone. She was also the consummate professional and had such great loyalty to my father. Annette will always be very special to me and Ron [Miller].
Annette was born in Utica, NY but her family moved to the San Fernando Valley in California when she was four. At the age of 13, Walt Disney saw her performing Swan Lake at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank and brought her in to the studio to audition to be a Mouseketeer.

Funicello was, arguably, the most popular of the members of the Mickey Mouse Club, a show that ran for three years but was shown in syndication for the next three decades. Her singing career kicked off during one of the Annette serials shown during the show where she sang How Will I Know My Love.  The demand for the song caused Walt Disney to sign Annette to a recording contract even though she never saw her career taking such a turn.

While Love didn't chart, her third single, Tall Paul, made it to number 7 nationally. She followed, over the next two years with four more top forty songs, First Name Initial (1959 / #20), O Dio Mio (1960 / #10), Train of Love (1960 / #36) and Pineapple Princess (1960 / #11).

After she ended her tenure at Disney, she moved to American International Pictures where she made a series of popular teen movies with Frankie Avalon including Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.

After the beach movie fad died out, Annette only worked periodically on TV and in film including a series of commercials for Skippy Peanut Butter starting in 1979 and the re-teaming with Avalon for the 1987 film Back to the Beach.

That same year, Funicello was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that she would keep private until 1992. Since that time, she had become a champion of research into the disease including the establishment of the Annette Funicello Research Fund For Neurological Disorders. In 1999, she had brain surgery to try and control the tremors. Two years ago, she survived a house fire that destroyed much of the home in which she lived.

Annette is survived by her husband, Glen Holt, three children and three grandchildren.