By Dawn Cranfield
Annette Funicello, the Original Mouseketeer, Dies at age 70
Annette Funicello, one of the original members of 1950s Mickey Mouse Club, has died at the age of 70. Funicello died due to complications from multiple sclerosis, according to a statement from the Walt Disney Company.
The actress died Monday after battling the disease for over 25 years, but “died peacefully” the Disney statement said. Funicello died at a hospital in California.
Funicello was only 13 years old when she appeared before Walt Disney and was selected by him to become an original member of the famed Mickey Mouse Club, a popular children’s television variety show. The teen had a background in dance and was immediately one of the most popular Mousketeers.
After leaving the Mickey Mouse Club, Funicello remained with Disney, and appeared in TV shows such as Zorro (1957), The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca (1958), as well as feature films such as The Shaggy Dog (1959), and The Monkey’s Uncle (1965)
Besides her Mousketeer fame, Funicello rocketed to stardom when she co-starred with teen heartthrob Frankie Avalon in the popular beach party movies in the 1960s. They starred in Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Beach Blanket Bingo, and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini between 1963 and 1965.
Along with her acting and dancing talents, Funicello sang, becoming one of Hollywood’s triple threats. Her movies helped sell her music, she had Top-40 hits including First Name Initial, How Will I know My Love, and Pineapple Princess.
“‘She will forever hold a place in our hearts as one of Walt Disney’s brightest stars, delighting an entire generation of baby boomers with her jubilant personality and endless talent,’ Bob Iger, Disney chairman and CEO, said in a statement released Monday. ‘Annette was well known for being as beautiful inside as she was on the outside, and she faced her physical challenges with dignity, bravery and grace. All of us at Disney join with family, friends, and fans around the world in celebrating her extraordinary life.’” (cnn.com)
In 1987, Funicello was diagnosed with the degenerative neurological disease multiple sclerosis, but kept the disease secret until 1992. That year, she established a research fund entitled, The Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases to support research into the cause, treatment and care of neurological diseases including multiple sclerosis.
As Funicello became more ill into the late 1990s, she made few public appearances. She remained under the care of her second husband Glen Holt, whom she married in 1986.
“‘We are so sorry to lose Mother,’ her three children said in a statement. ‘She is no longer suffering anymore and is now dancing in heaven. We love and will miss her terribly.’” (cnn.com)