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Annette Funicello, 'America's Sweetheart,' Has Died

Headshot portrait of American actor and singer Annette Funicello.
Hulton Archive
Getty Images
Headshot portrait of American actor and singer Annette Funicello.

Annette Funicello, who was one of the first child stars to emerge out of The Mickey Mouse Club, has died, the official Disney Fan Club reports.

Funicello was known as "America's Sweetheart." Her acting career started in 1955 when Walt Disney recruited her at 12 years old. She went on to become a successful film star, starring with Frankie Avalon in the Beach Party films.

Funicello had been battling multiple sclerosis for years. By the end of her life, she was unable to walk or talk. The Canadian broadcaster CTV ran a series of reports about Funicello's struggle.

Extra reports that her family confirmed she died from complications of MS. Variety reports she was taken off life support Monday morning.

She was 70.

Variety adds:

" 'Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mousketeer, and a true Disney Legend,' said Disney chairman-CEO Robert Iger. '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.'

"Diane Disney Miller, daughter of Walt Disney, praised Funicello as a 'consummate professional' who demonstrated 'great loyalty' to Disney."

Funicello is survived by her husband, Glen Holt, and three children from a previous marriage.

Update at 1:41 p.m. ET. Annette Ballet:

Jimmie Dodd, the host of The Mickey Mouse Club and the composer of its theme, wrote a special song for Annette.

"Who's the little lady who's as dainty as a dream? Who's the one you can't forget? I'll give you just three guesses. Annette, Annette, Annette!" he sang. Here's video of Annette dancing to the song:

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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