Family, friends and fans of the original Mickey Mouse Club are mourning the passing of Mouseketeer Karen Pendleton. Word of her death came from Disney historian, author and friend Lorraine Santoli. Pendleton died at her home in Fresno, California from a heart attack on October 6th. She was 73.

“Karen was not only a Disney colleague to me but also a friend and I will miss her very much,” Santoli reflected in a statement on the passing of Pendleton. The Glendale, California native worked on The Mickey Mouse Club for its original four-year run on ABC-TV from 1955-1959 and was one of only nine kids who appeared on the program during its entire run.  

Karen was cast for the television program at the age of eight. In her book Why? Because We Still Like You, An Oral History of The Mickey Mouse Club, author Jennifer Armstrong said the youngster had no show business background but had some dance skills. “Her experience played to her advantage,” Armstrong notes adding that the show's producers “fell for her fresh innocence.”

Pendleton was frequently featured with fellow Mouseketeer Cubby O'Brien in the song at the end of each episode.

When the show went off the air, she left show business, finished high school, got married and had a daughter in 1973. She divorced her husband in 1981 and two years later was involved in a car crash that left her wheelchair bound for the rest of her life.

According to Santoli, the author of The Official Mickey Mouse Club Book,  being paralyzed from the accident did not slow down Karen. “She had some hard times, especially having been in an automobile accident in 1983 and being confined to a wheelchair,” Santoli says. “But that didn't stop her from going forward, earning Bachelor and Masters degrees and becoming a major advocate for those with disabilities,” she notes.

She didn't let her disability get in her way. Pendleton went on to work at a shelter for abused women and become a board member for the California Association of the Physically Handicapped.  She was also eagerly willing to participate in many Mickey Mouse Club reunions and parades at Disney theme parks as well as Disney fan shows and conventions.

Pendleton's daughter Staci issued a statement on the passing of her mother. “My mom loved her Mouseketeer family. Getting together with her co-stars was always a highpoint. It gave her the opportunity to relive great memories and to meet so many fans that watched the show as kids and loved her.” The statement also said that many fans told her that they named their daughters Karen in her honor.

That honor likely surprised Pendleton who never took her celebrity for granted. In her book, Armstrong recalls talking to the original Mouseketeer about her fame. “Once when a guy on the street asked for her autograph, 'I had no idea why,' she said. It just didn't register for me when I was a little kid.'” Karen added that she did not understand the significance of writing her name on a piece of paper for a fan.

“We could all learn something from Karen,” her friend Santoli notes. “Whatever life throws at you, you must go forward with gusto.” And she did. Karen Pendleton is survived by her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.