Karen Pendleton, one of the original Mouseketeers from The Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s, died Oct. 6 of a heart attack in Fresno, Calif., at the age of 73.
Author and Disney historian Lorraine Santoli announced the news of Pendleton’s death on Oct. 8, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
“My mom loved her Mouseketeer family,” Pendleton’s daughter, Staci, said in a statement. “Getting together with [her co-stars] 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.”
Born Aug. 1, 1946, in Glendale, Calif, Pendleton joined the cast of the Mickey Mouse Club at age eight as the youngest of the original Mouseketeers. According to Santoli, the young talent was recruited to audition when Disney producers approached dancing schools in the Los Angeles area, seeking kids to try out for a spot on the show. She appeared on the show throughout its original 1955-1959 run on ABC to become one of only nine kids to do so among an ever-changing cast.
Pendleton left the entertainment business altogether after the Mickey Mouse Club. She went on to finish high school, got married, had a daughter in 1973, and divorced in 1981. A 1983 car accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. While she had to spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair, she returned to college to earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. She also became an advocate for people with physical disabilities, serving on the board of the California Association of the Physically Handicapped, which is now Californians for Disability Rights.
With her cultural role cemented by the Disney show that entertained generations of kids around the world, Pendleton continued to associate with her fellow former Mouseketeers later in life, co-starring in many Mickey Mouse Club reunion shows and parades at Disneyland. She also attended Disney fan shows and conventions.
Pendleton is survived by her daughter and two grandchildren.
Produced by Walt Disney Productions, The Mickey Mouse Club was a variety show starring kids and aimed at kids from age three to fourteen. Each episode featured a unique theme, such as “Circus Day” and “Fun with Music.” For four seasons, the series aired on ABC every weekday at 5 p.m. in a four-year span from 1955 to 1959. There were thirty-nine kids and three adults casted as Mouseketeers during the show’s original run.