Published Apr 08, 2013Actress/singer Annette Funicello, one of the original Mouseketeers, passed away earlier this morning (April 8) following a long, well-documented battle with multiple sclerosis. A press release from Disney confirmed that she "died peacefully from complications due to multiple sclerosis, a disease she battled for over 25 years" at a California hospital. She was 70 years old.
Funicello's long relationship with the Disney company kicked into gear in 1955 with the launch of the Mickey Mouse Club, where she was featured as one of the original Mouseketeers. After the show wrapped in 1958, the performer transitioned into both a into a film career with Disney and a recording career for associated imprint Vista.
Her singing career started with the "How Will I Know My Love"/"Don't Jump to Conclusions" single in 1958, but it was her 1959 song "Tall Paul" that made the most impact, hitting No. 7 on the charts. Funicello continued recording throughout the '60s, playing surf-rock-styled songs that were issued alongside her series of "beach movies" with Frankie Avalon. The singer even teamed up with the Beach Boys for the titular track of her 1965 movie The Monkey's Uncle. She also recorded a string of albums, including Hawaiiannette, Italiannette and Dance Annette.
Her recording schedule slowed down at the end of the '60s, with Funicello later noting that she "never liked singing."
"I was always so frightened," she had told the Chicago Tribune, allowing that producer Salvador "Tutti" Camarata and the songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman put her at ease with a few recording tricks. "The echo chambers and double tracking gave me confidence and made my voice stronger. And it was time for a new sound. Soon, people started copying 'the Annette sound.'"
Funicello was diagnosed with MS in 1987. Her last starring role was that year's Back to the Beach, which co-starred Avalon. She acted as an MS spokesperson as she battled the disease, opening the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders at the California Community Foundation in 1993.
"Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mousketeer, and a true Disney Legend," Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. "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."
Funicello is survived by her three children, Gina, Jack Jr. and Jason, and three grandchildren.