Annette Funicello — the undisputed Queen of the “Mickey Mouse Club” — has passed away from complications due to Multiple Sclerosis after more than 25 years fighting the disease. She was 70.
Pretty, dark-haired Funicello – one of America’s perpetual teenagers – was ‘discovered’ at a dance recital when she was 13 by Walt Disney himself. She was cast to star in The Mickey Mouse Club until 1959, and then roles like with “Babes in Toyland”. As she grew into older roles, she was cast as one half of the popular “Frankie and Annette” billing, captivating teen audiences everywhere until her marriage in 1965. Her grace, her beauty, her clean humor and her figure remained popular despite her shrinking public appearances.
In the early nineties, Funicello announced her battle with MS, quashing long-rumored whispers of alcoholism due to intermittent trouble with walking on set in her reunion with Avalon in “Back to the Beach” in 1987.
Annette Funicello remained steadfastly devoted to Walt Disney throughout her life. Shortly after her announcement of living with MS, she doted on Walt Disney and her days on The Mickey Mouse Club as the happiest of her life. She gladly heeded Disney’s requests to wear a one-piece swimsuit even though many girls began sporting bikinis in beach productions, and she never regretted it.
Many times, Funicello credited the Lord with her tribulations. In her 1994 autobiography, “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes”, she says, “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.” She goes on to say, “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.”
Annette Funicello will live in our hearts, and hearts of all Mouseketeers, forever, and remind us to keep young at heart and inspire us to make the most of the hand we’re dealt.