Today we know all too much about former Mickey Mouse Club stars like Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Ryan Gosling, but the original Mousekeeter turned teen star was Annette Funicello, who has died at the age of 70 after a close relationship with Walt Disney himself defined her career.
Funicello, Extra reported, died from complications from multiple sclerosis, and had lost the ability to speak and to walk from the disease.
The official Disney Fan Club Twitter account also reported her death:
We're sorry to report beloved Disney Mouseketeer and iconic teen star Annette Funicello has passed away at age 70: twitpic.com/chyte0— Disney D23 (@DisneyD23) April 8, 2013
According to the Los Angeles Times, Funicello was discovered by Walt Disney himself while performing in her dance school's year-end recital in Burbank at the age of 12. Just months later she joined the original cast of The Mickey Mouse Club. She would become the show's biggest star, with merchandise like dolls, lunch boxes, and comic books to her name.
Though the '50s iteration of The Mickey Mouse Club would fade (it was revived in the '70s and then again in 1989), Funicello kept a contract with Disney, the Associated Press explained, making movies like The Shaggy Dog and Babes in Toyland, and going on to become a recording artist.
But, like those who came after her, Funicello transitioned into teen idol phase. She, along with Frankie Avalon, was the star of most "Beach Party" movies of the 1960s. As her career changed, she continued to honor the wishes of Walt Disney. According to the AP, she recalled: "Mr. Disney said to me one day, 'Annette, I have a favor to ask of you. I know all the girls are wearing bikinis, but you have an image to uphold. I would appreciate it if you would wear a one-piece suit.' I did, and I never regretted it." (She did, at times, wear a bikini.) Below she sings in Beach Blanket Bingo: