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Disney child star Annette Funicello dead at 70

Annette Funicello

Annette Funicello Credit: Annette Funicello as a "Mouseketeer" in 1955.

Annette Funicello, America's girl next door who captured the innocence of the 1950s and 1960s as a Disney Mouseketeer and the star of beach party movies, died on Monday at age 70, the Walt Disney Co. said.

Funicello died at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, California, from complications of multiple sclerosis, the television and film studio said.

Her family told celebrity news television program "Extra" that Funicello had been in a coma.

"Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mouseketeer, and a true Disney legend," Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Co., said 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 and endless talent," he said.

Funicello caught the public eye as a 12-year-old in 1955 when she became one of the original members of Disney's "The Mickey Mouse Club," a trademark show of the clean-cut fifties.

She went on to star in a series of beach movies in the 1960s including "Beach Party," "Bikini Beach" and the hit "Beach Blanket Bingo," released in 1965 and co-starring teen idol Frankie Avalon.

In later life, she was remembered for her valiant fight against multiple sclerosis, a crippling disease of the nervous system that she developed in the late 1980s.

It led the once-vivacious singer and actress to depend first on a cane, then a walker and finally a wheelchair.

"We are so sorry to lose Mother," Funicello's children, Jack, Jason and Gina, said in a statement. "She is no longer suffering anymore and is now dancing in heaven. We love and will miss her terribly."

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