Disney great Annette Funicello dead at 70

Apr 8, 2013 at 2:23 p.m. ET

Disney's original Mickey Mouse Club icon Annette Funicello has died. She was 70 years old.

Annette Funicello

Before Britney, before Christina, before Demi and Selena there was Annette Funicello: The original Disney star. Today the mouse house confirmed the sad news that the Hollywood icon has passed at the age of 70.

Funicello rose to fame as the favorite performer in the 1950's version of The Mickey Mouse Club, then cemented her place in Hollywood history by teaming up with Frankie Avalon for a series of beach movies including Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach and Beach Blanket Bingo along with Disney flicks like The Shaggy Dog, Babes in Toyland, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones and The Monkey's Uncle.

Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher dead at 87 >>

"Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word 'Mousketeer' and a true Disney legend," said Bob Iger, Disney's chairman and chief executive. "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."

Funicello was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1987 and became a spokeswoman for the debilitating nervous system disease. She went public with the disease in 1991 after her lack of equilibrium caused rumors of alcoholism.

Farewell, Lilly Pulitzer: Palm Beach will miss you >>

"We'd be shooting a scene on the sand, and when I'd try to get up, I couldn't balance," she told People in 1992 of the emergence of her symptoms while filming Back to the Beach. "We'd laugh about it, and Frankie would say, 'Look at you, you look like you've had too much to drink.' And I'd say, 'Frankie, this is just the weirdest thing.'"

Funicello is survived by her husband Glen Holt and her three children by former husband Jack Gilardi, Gina, Jack Jr. and Jason.

Image courtesy WireImage