BAKERSFIELD, Cali. (www.incnow.tv) -- The popular Mouseketeer on "The Mickey Mouse Club", Annette Funicello died Monday of complications from multiple sclerosis.
Funicello stunned fans and friends in 1992 with the announcement about her ailment. Yet she was cheerful and upbeat, grappling with the disease with a courage that contrasted with her lightweight teen image of old.
She was just 13 when she gained fame on Walt Disney's television kiddie "club" that ran from 1955 to 1959. She received 10 times more fan letters per month than any other of the shows 23 performers.
After the show ended, Funicello remained under contract with the studio and appeared in such Disney movies as "Johnny Tremain," ''The Shaggy Dog," ''The Horsemasters," ''Babes in Toyland," ''The Misadventures of Merlin Jones" and "The Monkey's Uncle."
Outgrowing the kid roles by the early '60s, Annette teamed with Frankie Avalon in a series of movies for American-International. They worked together to make: "Beach Party," "Beach Blanket Bingo," "Muscle Beach Party," ''Bikini Beach," ''Beach Blanket Bingo," ''How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" and "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine."
She was somehow never forgotten though mostly out of the public eye for years. She and Avalon staged a reunion in 1987 with "Back to the Beach." It was during the filming that she noticed she had trouble walking — the first insidious sign of MS.
When it was finally diagnosed, she later recalled, "I knew nothing about (MS), and you are always afraid of the unknown. I plowed into books."
She wrote of her triumphs and struggles in her 1994 autobiography, "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" — the title taken from a Disney song. In 1995, she appeared briefly in a television docudrama based on her book. And she spoke openly about the degenerative effects of MS.
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