Former Disney Mouseketeer Annette Funicello has died.
The official Disney Fan Club Twitter account broke the news.
It said she was 70.
Her family confirmed to “ Extra ” that Funicello died from complications of multiple sclerosis.
Extra says they were by her side when she was taken off life support. Funicello had been in an MS coma for years, it said.
Funicello was just 12 when she was selected by Walt Disney himself to be one of the original Mouseketeers of the "Mickey Mouse Club," the 1950s television variety show aimed at children.
Funicello, who had a background in dance, quickly became one of the most popular Mouseketeers.
Todd Leopold of CNN contributed to this report
Disney has released the following statement:
BELOVED DISNEY MOUSEKETEER AND ICONIC TEEN STAR ANNETTE FUNICELLO DIES AT AGE 70
BURBANK, Ca., April 8, 2013 - Actress Annette Funicello, long-time Disney and Beach Party star, passed away on Monday April 8 at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, CA, 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 wasalways 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 The 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."
Born October 22, 1942, in Utica, New York, Funicello and her family moved to Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley when she was four years old. She was discovered by Walt Disney at age 13 while dancing the lead in Swan Lake at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank and he invited her to audition for his new children’s TV series called The Mickey Mouse Club and was hired on the spot to become a Mouseketeer. The show debuted on October 3, 1955 and Annette soon became the most popular member of the group. The series ran for three original seasons and in reruns through the 1990s.
After leaving the Mickey Mouse Club, Funicello was the only Mouseketeer to remain under contract to Disney and appeared on the TV shows Zorro (1957), The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca (1958), and starred in the Disney feature films The Shaggy Dog (1959), Babes in Toyland (1961), The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964), and The Monkey's Uncle (1965).
In the early 1960s, Annette starred in a series of beach party movies with teen idol Frankie Avalon, including Beach Party (1963), Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965). During this time, she recorded a series of hit top-40 pop singles, including "Tall Paul," "First Name Initial," "How Will I Know My Love," and "Pineapple Princess." Her string of successful record albums included such favorites as "Hawaiiannette" (1960), "Italiannette" (1960), and "Dance Annette" (1961).
In 1987, Funicello again teamed up with