Disney child star Annette Funicello dies at age 70

Annette Funicello, star of Disney's "Mickey Mouse Club" television program in the 1950s, has died, Disney said on Monday.

Annette Funicello, star of Disney's "Mickey Mouse Club" television program in the 1950s, has died, Disney said on Monday.

LOS ANGELES — Annette Funicello, America’s girl next door who captured the innocence of the 1950s and 1960s as a Disney Mouseketeer and the star of beach party movies, died on Monday at age 70, the Walt Disney Co. said.

Funicello died at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, California, from complications of multiple sclerosis, the television and film studio said.

Her family told celebrity news television program “Extra” that Funicello had been in a coma.

“Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mouseketeer, and a true Disney legend,” Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Co., said in a statement.

“She will forever 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,” he said.

Funicello caught the public eye as a 12-year-old in 1955 when she became one of the original members of Disney’s “The Mickey Mouse Club,” a trademark show of the clean-cut fifties.

She went on to star in a series of beach movies in the 1960s including “Beach Party,” “Bikini Beach” and the hit “Beach Blanket Bingo,” released in 1965 and co-starring teen idol Frankie Avalon.

In later life, she was remembered for her valiant fight against multiple sclerosis, a crippling disease of the nervous system that she developed in the late 1980s.

It led the once-vivacious singer and actress to depend first on a cane, then a walker and finally a wheelchair.

“We are so sorry to lose Mother,” Funicello’s children, Jack, Jason and Gina, said in a statement. “She is no longer suffering anymore and is now dancing in heaven. We love and will miss her terribly.”


Funicello was by far the most popular of the dozen or so youngsters who donned Mouseketeers outfits for the Disney show and received the most fan mail.

As she matured from child to young woman she outgrew the Mouseketeers but remained in demand, guest-starring in fifties-era TV staples such as “The Danny Thomas Show” and “Zorro.”

Funicello had her own TV series, “Annette,” in 1958 in which she played a country girl living with relatives in the big city. The series lasted only one season.

She moved to the big screen in 1957 with “Johnny Tremaine,” an American Revolutionary War drama, and co-starred in “The Shaggy Dog” in 1959.

But it was a string of beach and surfing movies in the sixties with bubble-gum heartthrob Avalon that really brought Funicello fame and fortune.

After starring in the 1968 rock’n’roll comedy “Head,” Funicello disappeared from the big screen. She remained active on television, however, and acted as spokesperson for Skippy peanut butter for nearly 20 years.

She re-emerged with Avalon to reprise their sand-and-surf roles in “Back to the Beach ‘87.”

It was while making that movie that Funicello began to experience the first symptoms of MS, although she did not know it at the time. In 1992 she announced that she had been suffering from MS for five years.

Funicello was born in Utica, New York, and the family moved to California when she was a child. Her father, Joe, was a mechanic and her mother, Virginia, devoted herself to her daughter’s show-business career once she became a Mouseketeer.

Funicello married Hollywood agent Jack Gilardi in 1965 and the couple had three children. The couple divorced in 1981, and she married racehorse breeder Glen Holt in 1986.


FordGalaxy 2 years, 3 months ago

suedehead - I grow more and more convinced with each post that RiggaTony is likely either a far-left Democrat trolling us, or he's a teenager who thinks it's cool to mock other people. Either way, ignoring him is the best option going forward.


FordGalaxy 2 years, 3 months ago

Haughton - Comments like these are tolerated because we still allow free speech in this country. Of course, everyone supports free speech until someone says something they disagree with. It's like the TV. If you don't like what's on, then change the channel. Otherwise, know that these comments are out there and you'll just have to ignore them. The only other option is that we simply start censoring those we disagree with. And if we're doing that, then we might as well toss the Constitution out the window.


Haughton 2 years, 3 months ago

I totally agree with you FordGalaxy. On second thought, comments like these are what we need to show the ignorance of the extremists on both sides. Thank you for the reminder FG!


LilburnsFuture 2 years, 3 months ago

Gasp - are you saying that socialized medicine is not a cure to our ills?


FordGalaxy 2 years, 3 months ago

So, not long after typing an entry stating, in round-about terms, that we should not censor someone simply because we disagree with them, then the comments in question disappear. Nice. It is the petulant child who thinks "I disagree with you, therefore I'm going to take away your outlet of opinion, so that only mine remains."

I say let RiggaTony's comments stay up there. Let those who would see how ignorant his comments are. In truth, his comments weren't even offensive, they were merely provocative in the sense that it brought up a discussion about freedom of speech. Granted, this forum may not be the most appropriate place for such discussion, but seldom does the perfect storm of time, place, and topic come together just as we wish.


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