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Disney Star Funicello Dies at 70

April 08, 2013

Annette Funicello, the most famous original cast member of the TV show “Mickey Mouse Club,” died Monday at age 70.

Funicello died at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield. The cause of death was complications of multiple sclerosis, a disease she battled for more than 25 years.

The young star was discovered by Walt Disney at a Burbank bowling alley when she was 13. He invited her to audition and she became the star of the variety show “Mickey Mouse Club,” which ran from 1955 to 1959. When the show ended, she was the only Mouseketeer to remain under contract at Walt Disney Co.

Funicello later appeared in the Disney TV show “Zorro” and in four Disney live-action movies, including “Babes in Toyland” and “Monkey’s Uncle.” She also starred in a number of beach movies at other studios.

The “Mickey Mouse Club” format was later revived in the 1970s and later in 1989. Notable show cast members from its last incarnation include Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake.

“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 Chief Executive Robert Iger, 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.”