If you were born after 1980, the name Annette Funicello might not have much meaning to you. However, if you are a member of the baby boom generation, she is an iconic part of your childhood and teenage years.
Funicello was one of the original “Mousketeers” of TV’s popular The Mickey Mouse Club, discovered by Walt Disney himself when she was 13. The program aired weekday afternoons from 1955 to 1959, then in syndication from 1962 to 1968 and again from 1975 to 1977. Funicello quickly became one of the most popular Mouseketeers. receiving over 6,000 letter a month.
After The Mickey Mouse Club went off the air, Funicello worked off the rest of her Disney contract, appearing in various Disney TV shows and movies, most notably 1959’s The Shaggy Dog and 1961’s Babes in Toyland.
In 1963, Funicello would leave the Disney films behind and make the transition from child star to teen idol. It was in that year that Beach Party was released. It would be the first of 10 films she’d co-star with singer Frankie Avalon. They would go on to make five more beach films (1964’s Bikini Beach, Muscle Beach Party and Pajama Party & 1965’s How to Stuff a Wild Bikini and Beach Blanket Bingo), a drag race themed film (1966’s Fireball 500), and Funicello would cameo in two other Avalon films (1965’s Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine and Ski Party). The pair reunited in 1987 for Back to the Beach, a call back to their beach party film heyday.
It was during the promotion of Back to the Beach that Funicello’s health started to deteriorate and three years later she would announce that she was suffering from multiple sclerosis. For a brief time, she would become the public face for the disease, opening the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders at the California Community Foundation. However, as the disease progressed, the actress withdrew from the public eye. By 2004 she could no longer walk, by 2009 she could no longer speak and needed full time care. Her death comes as a complication of this disease.