I remember as a child watching “The Mickey Mouse Club.” Annette Funicello was my favorite Mouseketeer, along with Cubby and Karen, the smallest of the group. I thought Annette was beautiful with her dark hair and beautiful smile. I was saddened to hear of her passing from complications of MS (multiple sclerosis), a disease she’s had since 1987. I read up on her life this week and decided to pay tribute to her. Here is her story…
Annette was born in Utica, NY, in 1942. When she was four years old, her family moved to L.A. At the age of five, she began dance lessons. She was discovered by Walt Disney himself in 1955 where she had the lead part of the play, “Swan Lake.” She was the last of 24 young Mouseketeers to be picked for the “Mickey Mouse Club.” Annette soon became the star of the show; she ended up as dolls, on lunch boxes, in comic books, and in mystery novels. In 1994 her autobiography, “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” was published. She stated in her book that high school boys would send their class rings and sometimes engagement rings to her in the mail, but she returned them all. The “Mickey Mouse Club” ran for three years, she was the only one left to remain under contract to the studio. She appeared in some movies, 1957’s “Zorro,” and some Disney movies, 1958’s “The Shaggy Dog,” and 1962’s “Babes in Toyland.” Annette had also recorded some hit songs.
In the 1960’s she began making her famous beach party movies where she was paired with Frankie Avalon. Young people loved these movies. Some of you who watched these movies may remember Annette never wore a 2-piece bathing suit. Walt Disney himself requested she not wear them and she respected his wishes.
In 1965 Annette married her agent Jack Gilardi and they had 3 children, Gina, Jack, and Jason. They divorced 18 years later and in 1986 she married horse trainer Glen Holt. She made a few more movies and her famous Skippy Peanut Butter commercials. Soon her MS got the best of her and she gave up acting all together.
In 1987 Annette was doing a re-union movie, “Back to The Beach” with Frankie Avalon when she noticed she was having trouble walking and keeping her balance. Frankie jokingly said, “You look like you’ve had too much to drink,” to which she replied, “Frankie, this is just the weirdest thing.” She soon began to lose control of her legs and in 1987 she was diagnosed with MS, in 1992 she made her health issues with MS known to the public.
MS is caused by your body’s immune system attacking and destroying the myelin, which is a protective sheath that protects your nerves. This interferes with the communication between your brain, spinal cord, and other parts of your body. The nerves can suffer irreversible damage. When Annette was diagnosed, treatment options were limited. Today there is a variety of medicines that can help a person live a long life and not always in a wheel chair. Annette started out using a cane, then a walker, then the wheel-chair. In the years to follow she couldn’t speak and communicated with her family by blinking or motioning. Even with her devout catholic faith, she still had her down sides. Sometimes all alone she would cry and ask, “why me?” But friends say she never complained to them and always kept her faith believing a cure would be found. Annette believed everything happens for a reason and she believed it was her mission to raise money for MS. In 1993 she started the “Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Disorders,” in Shafter, California to help find a cure.
Only knowing that Annette died from complications from MS, a doctor had this to say about MS, and not Annette’s doctor, “The disease itself doesn’t kill a person. It’s the complications from heart or lung disease, blood clots, infection, or pneumonia. A 70 year old woman, who has suffered with MS for 25 years probably experienced muscle degeneration and atrophy skin issues. She may have suffered from several mini strokes which resulted in a major stroke.”
Here are some signs of MS I’m sure Annette Funicello would want everyone to know:
Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs.
Partial or total loss of central vision, usually in one eye or blurred vision.
Electric shock sensation in your head when you move your head a certain way.
Lack of coordination or unsteady gait.
Slurred or loss of speech.
Fatigue or dizziness.
Disney chairman and CEO, Bob Igor, made this statement following the news of Annette’s death,
“She will always 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.”
Annette passed away on April, 8, 2013, from the complications associated with MS.
RIP Annette Funicello. May you now find an after-life with no pain, where you can dance and sing all day long…
Now it’s time to say good-bye to all our company…..
M.I.C. – See you real soon
K.E.Y.- Why? Because we like you