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Lifestyle

April 9, 2013

Annette Funicello, girl next door, dies at 70

NEW YORK (AP) — She was the first crush for a generation of boys, the perfect playmate for a generation of girls.

Annette Funicello, who became a child star as a cute-as-a-button Mouseketeer on “The Mickey Mouse Club” in the 1950s, ruled among baby boomers, who tuned in every weekday afternoon to watch her on their flickering black-and-white television sets.

Then they shed their mouse ears, as Annette did when she teamed up with Frankie Avalon during the ’60s in a string of frothy, fun-in-the-sun movies with titles like “Beach Blanket Bingo” and “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.”

Decades later, she endeared herself to baby boomers all over again after she announced in 1992 that she had multiple sclerosis and began grappling with the slow, degenerative effects with remarkably good cheer and faith.

Funicello died on Monday at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, Calif., of complications from MS, the Walt Disney Co. said. She was 70 and had dropped from public view years ago.

“She really had a tough existence,” Avalon told The Associated Press. “It’s like losing a family member. I’m devastated but I’m not surprised.”

Avalon said that when they were working together, she never realized how beloved she was. “She would say, ‘Really?’ She was so bashful about it. She was an amazing girl,” he recalled.

The pretty, dark-haired Funicello was 13 when she gained fame on “The Mickey Mouse Club,” a kids’ variety show that consisted of stories, songs and dance routines. It ran on ABC from 1955 to 1959.

Cast after Walt Disney saw her at a dance recital, she appeared in the Mouseketeer uniform of mouse ears, a pleated skirt and a turtleneck sweater emblazoned with her first name, and captivated young viewers with her wholesome, girl-next-door appeal.

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