Annette Funicello, who starred in a series of beach movies with Frankie Avalon in the 1960s, passed away at the age of 70. The actress had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1987 and soon thereafter became a spokesperson for the treatment of this disease that attacks the central nervous system.
The actress was first discovered by Walt Disney at the age of 12 during a Burbank dance recital in 1955. Later that year, she joined the cast of Disney's new TV show The Mickey Mouse Club, where she became the biggest star of that cast. After the show ended in 1958, she remained under contract at Disney and starred in her first feature, The Shaggy Dog, in 1959. This lead to a string of Disney films such as Babes in Toyland and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones.
In 1963, she starred in her first "beach" movie with Frankie Avalon entitled Beach Party, which lead to 1964's Muscle Beach Party and 1965's Beach Blanket Bingo. Here's what Disney chairman Bob Iger had to say in a statement regarding the actress' passing.
"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."
She is survived by her husband, Glen Holt and three children, Gina Portman, Jason Gilardi, and Jack Gilardi Jr., from her previous marriage to Jack Gilardi.