Long before Selena or Demi, there was Annette: the most beloved of all Walt Disney princesses. From Annette Funicello's breakout in 1955's The Mickey Mouse Club
to her 1965 frisky teen comedy Beach Blanket Bingo
, she personified wholesomeness. "Mickey Mouse is my best friend," she said - as an adult. Even after a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 1987, "she was so feisty and brave," says actress Eva LaRue, who befriended Funicello when she played her in the 1995 TV movie A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes
. "She was able to keep her sweet, innocent, girl-next-door core to the end."
On April 8 Funicello succumbed to complications from her MS at age 70, in a Bakersfield, Calif., hospital with her children Gina, Jack Jr. and Jason Gilardi by her side. "She's on her toes dancing in heaven," said Gina. "No more MS." That illness had forced Funicello to retreat from Hollywood, but "she never wanted pity," says Back to the Beach
costar Lori Loughlin. At the end she was cared for by her second husband, racehorse-breeder Glen Holt. Her long battle was as inspiring as her career, says Paul Anka, who dated her and wrote his classic song "Puppy Love" about her: "By discussing her MS with courage and candor, she showed the best side of herself."