Actress Annette Funicello, long-time Disney and Beach Party star, passed away on Monday, April 8, at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, California, at the age of 70. She died peacefully from complications due to Multiple Sclerosis, a disease she battled for over 25 years. Beloved by television viewers in the ’50s for her stint on Disney’s original “The Mickey Mouse Club,” and by film buffs for her numerous roles in a series of popular teen-oriented movies in the ’60s, Funicello became a pop culture icon.
Commenting on her passing, Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, said, “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.”
Diane Disney Miller, daughter of Walt Disney, added, “Everyone who knew Annette loved and respected her. She was one of the loveliest people I’ve ever known, and was always so kind to everyone. She was also the consummate professional and had such great loyalty to my father. Annette will always be very special to me and Ron.” Diane’s husband, Ron Miller, who helmed the Disney company in the 1980s and worked with Annette when he was a young assistant on Mickey Mouse Club, recalled, “She was always in good spirits and ready to help out if she needed to step in when something unexpected happened.”
Oscar®-winning composer and Disney Legend Richard Sherman, who, with his late brother Robert, wrote many of Annette’s biggest song hits, said, “Annette’s sweet, unassuming spirit, her love of people, and her capacity to exude kindness and good feelings to everyone she met was part of her beautiful charisma. Because the songs we wrote for her brought us to the attention of Walt, Bob and I always referred to Annette as our ‘lucky star.’ My wife, Elizabeth, joins me in sending a heartfelt aloha with much love to our ‘Pineapple Princess.’”
Fellow Mouseketeer and long-time friend Sharon Baird observed, “Throughout all the years we were friends she never changed from that sweet person who cared so much about others. She always had time for everyone; family, friends and fans alike. It’s no wonder she was America’s sweetheart.”
Read more about Annette’s remarkable life and many contributions at D23.