America's girl next door, Annette Funicello, dies at 70 - FOX 35 News Orlando

America's girl next door, Annette Funicello, dies at 70

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For more than 50 years, Annette Funicello was the girl next door who was loved by everyone, but the world is now mourning the loss of a true icon now that she has lost her battle with multiple sclerosis at age 70.

Funicello was her generation's Britney Spears but without the weird haircuts and bad behavior. She had been living with MS since the late 80s and now leaves a legacy as one of Hollywood's most enduring stars.

From the beginning, Funicello was America's favorite Mouseketeer, discovered by Walt Disney himself. She became the show's breakout star, receiving more fan mail than anyone else and even inspiring her own song, "Annette Ballet."

She became even more popular on the silver screen, starring in a series of surf-and-turf beach comedies with another teen idol, Frankie Avalon.

By the 1980s, a new generation got to know Funicello as the pitchperson for a popular peanut butter, Skippy -- but by the end of that decade, she began to notice the first symptoms of what would become a decades-long battle with a debilitating disease.

"People think nothing bad ever happens to me, but I'm no better, no worse than anyone," Funicello told Katie Couric on "The Today Show" in 1994.

Radio talk show host Nancy Nelson interviewed Funicello several times, and she told FOX 9 News the girl-next-door image was no act.

"Every boy was in love with Annette Funicello, and every girl wanted to be her," Nelson said. "She was from a time of innocence."

By the time of her death, Funicello could no longer walk or talk, but Nelson said she used her illness to leave behind a helpful legacy to help others through her foundation to fund research seeking cures for neurological diseases.

"We've lost an irreplaceable," Nelson said of the woman who made millions of boys and girls feel like a part of the Disney club. "Time marches on, our memories fade, but for this one fleeting moment, those of us who remember Annette can smile and say, 'Thank you.'"

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