ANNETTE FUNICELLO, WHO WAS DISCOVERED BY WALT DISNEY AT A DANCE RECITAL WHEN SHE WAS JUST 9 YEARS OLD, HAS DIED.

SHE WAS CAST ON TV'S "THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB" IN 1955 AT THE AGE OF 13 AND SOON BECAME THE MOST POPULAR "MOUSEKETEER" -- RECEIVING MORE THAN 8-THOUSAND FAN LETTERS A MONTH.

SHE REMAINED LOYAL TO DISNEY THROUGHOUT HER LIFE, BUT TOOK OFF HER MOUSE EARS AND TEAMED UP WITH FRANKIE AVALON IN THE 60'S FOR A STRING OF FUN-IN-THE-SUN MOVIES WITH NAMES LIKE "BIKINI BEACH" AND "BEACH BLANKET BINGO."

FUNICELLO SHOCKED HER FANS IN 1992 WHEN SHE ANNOUNCED SHE HAD MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS.

THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY SAYS SHE DIED AT A HOSPITAL IN BAKERSFIELD, CALIFORNIA, OF COMPLICATIONS RELATED TO THE DISEASE.

ANNETTE FUNICELLO WAS 70-YEARS-OLD.

LAURI NEFF, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.

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