Nightly News   |  April 08, 2013

Annette Funicello, ‘America’s Sweetheart,’ dies at 70

Beloved as one of the most popular Disney Mouseketeers, Annette Funicello went on to star in a series of “Beach Party” movies, became a celebrity spokesperson for Skippy peanut butter and later hit the road with Frankie Avalon for a concert tour. Several years later she succumbed to multiple sclerosis and went public with her diagnosis. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> frankie avalon put out a statement today saying, quote, we have lost one of america 's sweethearts for generations upon generations. he was talking about annette funicello . just the mention of her name conjures a sweeter era, one of genuine innocence and what the generation before ours called good clean fun. funicello died today after a long brave struggle with m.s. she was 70 years old. tonight nbc's anne thompson has a look back.

>> annette!

>> reporter: as television came of age, so did annette funicello . mickey mouse

>> reporter: america first fell in love with the talented teenager in 1955 on "the mickey mouse club ." we're mouseketeers we want to say hello

>> reporter: so popular she had her own series within the series. she transitioned to movies. first for disney. smiling eyes golden hair

>> reporter: but it was on the beach where funicello stole america 's heart again in the 1960s . beach blanket bingo that's the name of the game

>> reporter: her wholesome image acquiring a glamorous sheen in a series of films with frankie avalon .

>> reporter: in the era of the bikini, funicello was always more modest at the request of walt disney .

>> i wore a two-piece sometimes but always covering the naval. that's the running gag. annette has none.

>> reporter: she never forgot what made her famous.

>> i owe everything to those ears.

>> reporter: she married twice and had three children who joined her in a peanut butter commercial.

>> hey, are you going to be here tomorrow?

>> reporter: in 1987 shooting this reunion movie with avalon, she first felt the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. five years later having trouble walking and fearing some would think she was drunk, funicello went public with the diagnosis.

>> people think nothing bad ever happens to me. but i'm no better. i'm no worse than anyone. i'm one of them.

>> reporter: m.s. would steal her ability to speak, to walk and lead to her death at 70. annette funicello , always america 's sweetheart. anne thompson , nbc news, new york.

>>> and that's our broadcast on a monday night as we begin a new week. thank you for being here with us. i'm brian williams . we hope to see you right