Karen Pendleton, one of the original Mouseketeers on Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club, died of a heart attack on Sunday in Fresno, Calif. She was 73. Author and Disney historian Lorraine Santoli announced the news of her death.
Born Aug. 1, 1946, Pendleton joined the cast of The Mickey Mouse Club at age 8, becoming one of the show’s youngest cast members. She remained on the show for the entirety of its original 1955-1959 run on ABC, one of only nine kids, including Annette Funicello, to do so. Pendleton was known for her blond curls and for her frequent song pairings with fellow Mouseketeer Cubby O’Brien, including in the show’s closing sequence.
Pendleton left the entertainment business after the show concluded, though her place in culture was cemented by The Mickey Mouse Club‘s lengthy run in syndication. After finishing high school, Pendleton got married and gave birth to a daughter in 1973, later divorcing her husband.
In 1983, a car accident left Pendleton paralyzed from the waist down, but she later returned to college to earn bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. She went on to serve on the board of the California Association of the Physically Handicapped (now Californians for Disability Rights), and to work as a high school counselor.
Pendleton continued to associate with her fellow former Mouseketeers later in life, and frequently appeared at reunions, fan shows, and conventions.
“My mom loved her Mouseketeer family,” her daughter, Staci, 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.”
Pendleton is survived by two grandsons, along with her daughter.