One of the original Mouseketeers on The Mickey Mouse Club House has died.
Karen Pendleton, who was just 8 years old when she joined the popular series, died in Fresno, Calif. Sunday from a heart attack, Disney historian Lorraine Santoli shared. She was 73.
Pendleton was one of the youngest members ever to join the cast, and remained a regular for the entire show’s run on ABC from 1955-1959 — a feat which only nine children accomplished, including Annette Funicello.
Pendleton made her mark on the Disney series with her blonde curls and adorable musical pairings with fellow Mouseketeer, Cubby O’Brien, which included their most notable song that would close out the show, “Alma Mater.”
She was born on Aug. 1, 1946 in Glendale, Calif. and attended a dance school in the greater Los Angeles area. While Disney producers were stopping by dance schools searching for talent for Mickey Mouse Club House, they asked Pendleton to audition, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
However, when Pendleton’s time on the Disney series came to an end, she left the entertainment business, finished high school and got married. She had a daughter, Staci, and later divorced her husband.
Pendleton’s life took a turn after a 1983 car accident, which paralyzed her from the waist down. The former Disney star had to be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life, however her challenges did not stop her from reaching her goals.
Years later, Pendleton earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology, went on to work at a shelter for battered women and served on the board for the California Association of the Physically Handicapped, THR reported.
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The children’s variety show, which ended in 1959, was rebooted in 1977 and then again, most famously, from 1989-1994, when future A-list entertainers Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera starred as singing and dancing Mouseketeers.
Pendleton also stayed in touch with her Mickey Mouse Club House co-stars, joining them for reunion and fan shows, conventions and parades at Disneyland.
“My mom loved her Mouseketeer family,” her daughter said in a statement. “Getting together with them was always a high point. It gave her the opportunity to relive great memories and to meet so many ‘Mickey Mouse Club’ fans that watched the show as kids and loved her. Many told her that they named their daughters ‘Karen’ in her honor.”
Pendelton is survived by her daughter and two grandsons.