The fan magazines chronicled her tooling around in her customized 1957 Thunderbird and featured stories on her romance with fellow teen idol Paul Anka, who, Funicello later said, composed "Put Your Head on My Shoulder" and other songs on the piano in the Funicello family's living room in Encino.

But for all the Hollywood glitz and glamour, Funicello remained the same reserved and relatively sheltered young woman her friends called Annie, who continued living at home until she was married.

"Nowadays when writers profile me for magazines, they write something to the effect that back in those days I 'represented' wholesomeness. In fact, though, I lived it, and it wasn't an act," she wrote in her 1994 autobiography, "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes."

Born Oct. 22, 1942, in Utica, N.Y., she was the first of three Funicello children. In 1946, her auto mechanic father sold his business and the family moved to the San Fernando Valley.

Though painfully shy, Annette began taking dance lessons when she was in kindergarten.

Concerned about her extreme shyness after she became a young star, she once asked Disney if she could see a psychologist.

"Annette," she recalled Disney telling her, "you have a certain charisma that people respond to. I think your being a little bit shy is part of your appeal. Going to see a psychologist would change that. Why do you want to change that?"

Funicello received a big career boost when Disney agreed to loan her out to American International Pictures to make "Beach Party," the song-filled, low-budget 1963 comedy, with Avalon.

Though Avalon deemed the script "good clean fun," Funicello recalled in her book, Disney feared the project would taint her image.

"I see in here that all the other girls are going to be running around in bikinis, which is fine," he told her. "But Annette, I want you to be different. You are different. I would simply like to request that you not expose your navel in the film."

Funicello, who wore a bikini around her own pool at home but never in public, replied that she'd be happy to comply with Disney's request. Long after she left the Disney studio, she spurned efforts to change her wholesome image.

"I've been offered roles as a hooker, as a druggie, all kinds of sleazy things," she told the St. Petersburg Times in 1990. "No, thank you. I always had Walt Disney in the back of my mind, whatever I did. I really considered him a second father."

For all her success in Hollywood, Funicello yearned to get married and start a family. In January 1965, 22-year-old Funicello married her agent, Jack Gilardi, who was 12 years her senior.

Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" cartoon strip marked the occasion by showing Linus howling, "I can't stand it! This is terrible! How depressing ... ANNETTE FUNICELLO HAS GROWN UP!"

While making "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" with Dwayne Hickman a few months after the wedding, she was already pregnant with the first of her three children.

She made occasional film and TV appearances over the next decades, along with a string of commercials for Skippy peanut butter.

Her marriage to Gilardi ended in divorce in 1982. In 1986, she married Glen Holt, a family friend who bred racehorses. She and Holt lived in her longtime Encino home until it was destroyed in a 2011 fire.

Besides Holt, her survivors include her three children from her first marriage, Gina, Jack Jr. and Jason; two brothers, Michael and Joseph; and three grandchildren.

In 1987, she came out of semi-retirement to reunite with Avalon for "Back to the Beach," a comedy that poked fun at the "beach party" genre they had popularized. While shooting the movie, Funicello experienced the first inkling that something was physically wrong.

"We'd be shooting a scene on the sand," she later told People magazine, "and when I'd try to get up, I couldn't balance. Shortly after that, I noticed that my eyesight was getting worse."

A neurological exam confirmed that she had multiple sclerosis.

After disclosing her illness in 1992, Funicello formed a fund to benefit research for neurological disease and became a national ambassador for the New York-based Multiple Sclerosis Society.

In 1993, she received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. By then, she needed a walker to get around, but she still radiated the childlike innocence of America's mouse-eared sweetheart.

McLellan is a former Times staff writer.

Times staff writer Rebecca Trounson contributed to this report.

elaine.woo@latimes.com