Annette Funicello, Mouseketeer and film star, dies - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Annette Funicello, Mouseketeer and film star, dies

Posted: Updated:
Annette Funicello in 1990. Photo AP. Annette Funicello in 1990. Photo AP.
NEW YORK, NY (WFLA) -

Annette Funicello, the most popular Mouseketeer on "The Mickey Mouse Club," who matured to a successful career in records and '60s beach party movies but struggled with illness in middle age and after, died Monday, The Walt Disney Co. said. She was 70.     

She died peacefully at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, Calif., of complications from multiple sclerosis, the company said.     

Funicello stunned fans and friends in 1992 with the announcement about her ailment. Yet she was cheerful and upbeat, grappling with the disease with a courage that contrasted with her lightweight teen image of old. 

The pretty, dark-haired Funicello was just 13 when she gained fame on Walt Disney's television kiddie "club," an amalgam of stories, songs and dance routines that ran from 1955 to 1959.   

Cast after Disney saw her at a dance recital, she soon began receiving 8,000 fan letters a month, 10 times more than any of the 23 other young performers.     

Her devotion to Walt Disney remained throughout her life. "He was the dearest, kindest person, and truly was like a second father to me," she remarked. "He was a kid at heart."     

When "The Mickey Mouse Club" ended, Annette (as she was often billed) was the only club member to remain under contract to the studio. She appeared in such Disney movies as "Johnny Tremain," ''The Shaggy Dog," ''The Horsemasters," ''Babes in Toyland," ''The Misadventures of Merlin Jones" and "The Monkey's Uncle."

She also became a recording star, singing on 15 albums and hit singles such as "Tall Paul" and "Pineapple Princess."   

Outgrowing the kid roles by the early '60s, Annette teamed with Frankie Avalon in a series of movies for American-International, the first film company to exploit the burgeoning teen market.        

The filmmakers weren't aiming for art, and they didn't achieve it. As Halliwell's Film Guide says of "Beach Party": "Quite tolerable in itself, it started an excruciating trend."      

But the films had songs, cameos by older stars and a few laughs and, as a bonus to latter-day viewers, a look back at a more innocent time. The 1965 "Beach Blanket Bingo," for example, featured subplots involving a mermaid, a motorcycle gang and a skydiving school run by Don Rickles, and comic touches by silent film star Buster Keaton.      

Among the other titles: "Muscle Beach Party," ''Bikini Beach," ''Beach Blanket Bingo," ''How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" and "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine."     

The shift in teen tastes begun by the Beatles in 1964 and Funicello's first marriage the following year pretty much killed off the genre.     

But she was somehow never forgotten though mostly out of the public eye for years. She and Avalon staged a reunion in 1987 with "Back to the Beach." It was during the filming that she noticed she had trouble walking - the first insidious sign of MS.

When it was finally diagnosed, she later recalled, "I knew nothing about (MS), and you are always afraid of the unknown. I plowed into books."   

Her symptoms were relatively mild at first, but gradually she lost control of her legs, and she feared people might think she was drunk. So she went public with her ordeal in 1992.         

She wrote of her triumphs and struggles in her 1994 autobiography, "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" - the title taken from a Disney song. In 1995, she appeared briefly in a television docudrama based on her book. And she spoke openly about the degenerative effects of MS. 

"My equilibrium is no more; it's just progressively getting worse," she said. "But I thank God I just didn't wake up one morning and not be able to walk. You learn to live with it. You learn to live with anything, you really do."    

"I've always been religious. This just makes me appreciate the Lord even more because things could always be worse. I know he will see me through this."    

Funicello was born Oct. 22, 1942, in Utica, N.Y., and her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 4. She began taking dance lessons the following year and won a beauty contest at 9. Then came the discovery by Disney in 1955.       

"I have been blessed to have a mentor like Walt Disney," she said 40 years later. "Those years were the happiest of my life. I felt that back then. I feel the same today."   

Asked about the revisionist biographies that have portrayed Disney in a negative light, she said, "I don't know what went on in the conference rooms. I know what I saw. And he was wonderful."   

In 1965, Funicello married her agent, Jack Gilardi, and they had three children, Gina, Jack and Jason. The couple divorced 18 years later, and in 1986 she married Glen Holt, a harness racehorse trainer. After her film career ended, she devoted herself to her family. Her children sometimes appeared on the TV commercials she made for peanut butter.     

The beach films featured ample youthful skin. But not Funicello's.           

She remembered in 1987: "Mr. Disney said to me one day, 'Annette, I have a favor to ask of you. I know all the girls are wearing bikinis, but you have an image to uphold. I would appreciate it if you would wear a one-piece suit.' I did, and I never regretted it."

  • 8 On Your SideMore>>

  • Are background checks enough for Florida teachers?

    Are background checks enough for Florida teachers?

    Friday, April 18 2014 7:41 PM EDT2014-04-18 23:41:35 GMT

    In an effort to weed out potential perverts, Florida law requires fingerprinting and criminal background checks before school districts hire employees that will have any contact with children.

    In an effort to weed out potential perverts, Florida law requires fingerprinting and criminal background checks before school districts hire employees that will have any contact with children.


  • Pasco mix-up sends registration notices to wrong drivers

    Pasco mix-up sends registration notices to wrong drivers

    Friday, April 18 2014 6:02 PM EDT2014-04-18 22:02:51 GMT
    The vehicle registration information of hundreds of drivers in Pasco County were sent to the wrong person in a mix-up that led to the firing of a contractor.
    The vehicle registration information of hundreds of drivers in Pasco County were sent to the wrong person in a mix-up that led to the firing of a contractor.
  • Flushable wipes, not so flushable says Tampa's wastewater officials

    Flushable wipes, not so flushable says Tampa's wastewater officials

    Friday, April 18 2014 3:52 PM EDT2014-04-18 19:52:20 GMT
    Personal wipes, baby wipes, face wipes, flushable wipes. They are all designed to help us deal with delicate issues. But the wipes themselves are actually pretty sturdy and increasingly local water systems are finding they are creating costly problems.
    Personal wipes, baby wipes, face wipes, flushable wipes. They are all designed to help us deal with delicate issues. But the wipes themselves are actually pretty sturdy and increasingly local water systems are finding they are creating costly problems.
  • NewsMore>>

  • Flowers and mementos left at fire-damaged animal shelter

    Flowers and mementos left at fire-damaged animal shelter

    Monday, April 21 2014 3:57 AM EDT2014-04-21 07:57:57 GMT
    Fansof the Animal Coalition of Tampa Bayshowedtheir support a day after the building was set fire by an arsonist.Flowers and other mementos were left in front of the boarded-up door at 502 N.Gilchrist Ave.Sunday.Investigatorsbelieve someone set the fire early Saturdaymorning.Three cats died in the fire.
    Fansof the Animal Coalition of Tampa Bayshowedtheir support a day after the building was set fire by an arsonist.Flowers and other mementos were left in front of the boarded-up door at 502 N.Gilchrist Ave.Sunday.Investigatorsbelieve someone set the fire early Saturdaymorning.Three cats died in the fire.
  • Two killed, two injured in Tampa park shooting

    Two killed, two injured in Tampa park shooting

    Monday, April 21 2014 3:49 AM EDT2014-04-21 07:49:47 GMT
    A shooting Sunday at Al Barnes Park in Tampa left two dead.A shooting Sunday at Al Barnes Park in Tampa left two dead.
    Two people were killed and two injured in a shooting at Al Barnes Park on 32nd Street in east Tampa on Sunday.
    Two people were killed and two injured in a shooting at Al Barnes Park on 32nd Street in east Tampa on Sunday.

  • SKorean president: Ferry crew actions 'murderous'

    SKorean president: Ferry crew actions 'murderous'

    Monday, April 21 2014 3:13 AM EDT2014-04-21 07:13:43 GMT
    South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Monday that the captain and some crew members of the sunken ferry committed "unforgivable, murderous acts" in the disaster, which left more than 300 people dead or missing.
    South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Monday that the captain and some crew members of the sunken ferry committed "unforgivable, murderous behavior" in the disaster, which left more than 300 people dead or missing.
  • Henry County Suspicious Activity

    Henry County Suspicious Activity

    Saturday, April 19 2014 10:07 PM EDT2014-04-20 02:07:16 GMT
    Press Release from the Henry County Sheriff's OfficeThe Henry County Sheriff’s Office received a call on April 18, 2014 regarding suspicious activity. Three white males driving a white pickup truck were seen in the area of Glen Court in the Ridgeway area of Henry County. The individuals walked to the back of a residence but a neighbor yelled at them and they left. Entry into the home was not gained. On April 19, 2014, three white males were seen on Andra Drive, also in Ridgeway. A male subjec...
    Press Release from the Henry County Sheriff's OfficeThe Henry County Sheriff’s Office received a call on April 18, 2014 regarding suspicious activity. Three white males driving a white pickup truck were seen in the area of Glen Court in the Ridgeway area of Henry County. The individuals walked to the back of a residence but a neighbor yelled at them and they left. Entry into the home was not gained. On April 19, 2014, three white males were seen on Andra Drive, also in Ridgeway. A male subjec...
  • 3 Blacksburg companies raise major capital

    3 Blacksburg companies raise major capital

    Thursday, April 17 2014 2:29 PM EDT2014-04-17 18:29:23 GMT
    Three Blacksburg companies have raised major capital recently.
    Three Blacksburg companies have raised major capital recently.
  • Bedford Co. Sheriff's Office investigates burglary at country club

    Bedford Co. Sheriff's Office investigates burglary at country club

    Wednesday, April 16 2014 12:16 PM EDT2014-04-16 16:16:02 GMT
    Investigators with the Bedford County Sheriff's Office are investigating a burglary of the Boonsboro Country Club.
    Investigators with the Bedford County Sheriff's Office are investigating a burglary of the Boonsboro Country Club.
Powered by WorldNow

WSLS 10, P.O. Box 10
Roanoke, VA 24022-0010

Telephone: 540.981.9110
Fax: 540.343.3157
Email: news@wsls.com

Can't find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.