Actress Annette Funicello, best known as a child performer on the original “Mickey Mouse Club” and for her beach movies with Frankie Avalon, died on Monday. She was 70.
Her family confirmed to “Extra” that Funicello died from complications of multiple sclerosis. They were by her side at a Bakersfield hospital when she was taken off life support. Funicello had been in an MS coma for years.
Funicello's only daughter, Gina Gilardi, said in a statement, "She's on her toes dancing in heaven... no more MS. My brothers and I were there, holding her sweet hands when she left us."
The perky star got her start at 12 years old as an original Mouseketeer. As a teenager, she transitioned to a successful career as a singer with songs like "Tall Paul" and "Pineapple Princess.”
She then gained popularity when she starred with teen idol Frankie Avalon in a series of "Beach Party" movies in the mid-1960s. Avalon said in a statement, "We have lost one of America's sweethearts for generations upon generations. I am fortunate enough to have been friends with Annette as well as appear in many films, TV and appearances with her. She will live on forever, I will miss her and the world will miss her."
In 1992, Annette announced she had MS, a secret she kept for many years. She lost the ability to walk in 2004 and to speak in 2009.
Funicello was married to her first husband, Jack Gilardi, from 1965 until 1981, and had three children. In 1986, she married California harness racing horse breeder/trainer Glen Holt.