One of the first Mouseketeers who was idolized through her beach movies passed away at a hospital after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.
Heartbreaking news comes from Disney family. Annette Funicello, one of the first Mousekeeters who helped pave the way for Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus and other stars who kicked start their career on the Mickey Mouse Club, has died. She was 70.
The former child actress passed away at a Bakersfield hospital after losing a long battle with multiple sclerosis. "She's on her toes dancing in heaven... no more MS," her daughter Gina Gilardi told Extra. "My brothers and I were there, holding her sweet hands when she left us."
Before she was taken off life support, she had been in a coma for years due to complications of her illness. She had suffered MS for about 25 years but didn't reveal it to public until 1992. She could no longer walk in 2004, lost her ability to speak by 2009 and needed round-the-clock care ever since.
Last October, Canada's CTV W5 News was invited by her husband, Glen Holt, into their home. "I'm sorry that she's this way," Holt, 81, said about her bedridden condition. "I would love to have her back dancing and singing and doing everything she always loved to do. But she can't do it."
Britney and many Hollywood stars flooded Twitter to send their condolence and prayers for Funicello and her mourning family. "She was a role model for me during my days as a Mousketeer. #Heartbroken," the Southern Belle tweeted about her late senior.
Britney was previously asked by a paparazzo about her reaction to Funicello's passing and she apparently mistook the question as she said, "That's great." She quickly clarified her error, "Misheard a question I was asked earlier by press while I was out and about. I am DEVASTATED to hear about the passing of Annette Funicello."
Frankie Avalon, another former teen idol who shared screen with Funicello in the 60s, said, "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."
Lori Loughlin, who played Funicello and Avalon's daughter in 1987's "Back to the Beach", remembered the late actress as "a wonderful person." She stated, "I enjoyed working with her immensely and found her to be kind and down-to-earth."
"She faced her illness with courage and never wanted anyone to have pity on her. I have a fond memory of having lunch at her home many years ago and when she opened the cabinet to get something, there were rows of Skippy peanut butter. She was truly the embodiment of the friendly, all-American girl that we all loved to watch in the beach movies."
Joan Rivers tweeted, "Annette Funicello's death truly saddens me. She was such a bright and wonderful part of all of our history." Dita Von Teese added, "Aw, sad to hear of Annette Funicello's passing, another raven haired goddess of the 50s that inspired me."
Alyssa Milano wrote, "Rest in peace, Annette Funicello..." William Shatner posted his tribute, "My thoughts are with the family of Annette Funicello. My best, Bill." Josh Gad tweeted a similar note, "RIP Annette Funicello. I grew up watching the old Mickey Mouse Club. You will be missed."
Paul Anka, who once dated her, spoke of his loving memory of the actress to TMZ, "She was a lovely lady. She was a great star. It's a very very sad ending."
Funicello started her acting career at 12. She was later known as a big-screen beach bunny, thanks to her roles in such movies as "Beach Party", "Bikini Beach" and "Beach Blanket Bingo". She is survived by her husband Holt, a racing horse breeder/trainer whom she married in 1986, and three children.
"When we got married we promised we would take care of each other, come hell or high water," Holt said. "And when she was diagnosed and started all this stuff about MS, I told her, 'Well, I'll take care of you, honey, and I'll do everything I can do.'"