Annette Funicello, who was a Mouseketeer in the 1950s, passed away at the age of 70 on Monday in a hospital in Bakersfield, California. She lost her battle with multiple sclerosis, which had lasted some 20 years, according to The Washington Post.
“I really didn’t know how popular I was at first,” she once told film critic Gene Siskel about her time as a Mouseketeer. “I became a Mouseketeer when I was 12. Mr. Disney kept our fan mail from us because he didn’t want to start any jealousy. But then it got out of hand after about a year.”
In the 1960s, she appeared in such Disney films as The Shaggy Dog” (1959), “Babes in Toyland” (1961) and “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones” (1964).
She then starred along Frankie Avalon in quite a few movies. They included “Beach Party,” “Muscle Beach Party,” “Bikini Beach,” “Beach Blanket Bingo” and “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.”
Entertainment Weekly spoke with some of Funicello’s friends and co-stars on Monday. The chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, Bob Iger, said the following:
“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.”
Her personal friend, Paul Anka, said, “Annette was a star from the time she was 12 years old, and I met her shortly after. In addition to her talent, she was self-possessed, determined, had incredible integrity, and was loved by everyone. When life threw her a terrible curve, she showed the best side of herself by coming forward to discuss her MS with courage and candor. As much as she entertained us as a young woman, she gave so much more by sharing her experience and raising awareness of this disease. She was kind and intelligent and she will be missed by her family and her wide circle of friends, in which I was lucky to be included.”
Lori Loughlin, who starred in the 1987 film “Back to the Beach,” said “Annette Funicello was really a wonderful person. I enjoyed working with her immensely and found her to be kind and down-to-earth. She faced her illness with courage and never wanted anyone to have pity on her. I have a fond memory of having lunch at her home many years ago and when she opened the cabinet to get something, there were rows of Skippy peanut butter. She was truly the embodiment of the friendly, all-American girl that we all loved to watch in the beach movies.”