Annette Funicello Actress and Star Mouseketeer Died at Age 70

Annette Funicello Actress and Star Mouseketeer Died at Age 70
Annette Funicello, one of the original and most popular members of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club, died today at the age of 70 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.

Ms. Funicello was cast as a Mouseketeer in 1955 when Walt Disney saw her perform in an amateur review. It wasn’t too long before she was getting fan mail to the tune of 6,000 letters per month. After The Mickey Mouse Club went off the air, Funicello was offered feature roles in other Disney productions. She also guest starred several times in the popular Danny Thomas show, Make Room for Daddy. She co-starred with Frankie Avalon in the first of several beach movies, Beach Party (1963). The next three beach movies in the series were all released in 1964. The last of the beach movies was in 1987 when she and Avalon portrayed parents of teenagers in Back to the Beach.

She was diagnosed with MS in 1987 but did not go public with her illness until 1992. Also in 1992, she was named a Disney Legend on her 50th birthday, and started The Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases.

A made-for-TV movie about her life, A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, was aired in 1995 and starred Eva LaRue in the title role. Based on her life story, it concentrated on her years as a mouseketeer but also included scenes relating to the onset of her illness. She made a cameo appearance as herself in the closing scenes.

Funicello will be remembered for her wholesome, yet beguiling, charm that captured both men and women during a time filled with milkshakes and drive-ins. She worked with singers, songwriters, actors, and studio heads that were at the top in their field: Walt Disney, Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka, and Oscar-winning composer Richard Sherman, just to name a few. When she married her first husband, Jack Gilardi, in 1965, cartoonist, Charles Schultz had Charlie Brown express dismay by writing, “Good grief: Annette Funicello is getting married.”

She entertained audiences as an actress, singer, and dancer, representing a simpler time. As a spokeswoman for health issues, she made her cause known with grace and dignity. She came into the homes and hearts of millions by singing the familiar tune that begins: “M-I-C…” She remains in our hearts as a symbol of strength and courage.

She and Gilardi divorced in 1981. She married in Glen Holt in 1986. Her three children are from her first marriage and she has three grandchildren.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Annette Funicello Dies at 70,” by Duane Byrge

Columnist-The Guardian Express
Cynthia Collins