Childhood Memories Friday: Mouseketeer Annette Funicello

Annette Funicello mouseketeer

Childhood Memories Friday

Most of us of a certain age have fond memories of Annette Funicello. She was a Mouseketeer, singer, beach party movie star, and then … what happened? What did Annette do after the Mickey Mouse Club?

Annette the Mouseketeer

Annette Joanne Funicello was born in New York on October 22, 1942. She and her family soon moved to California, where she became a mousketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club television show. Mickey Mouse Club legend has it that she was the final one chosen to be a mouseketeer, and the only one chosen by Walt Disney himself. By most accounts, Annette became the most popular mouseketeer on the show. Shy by nature, Annette was originally chosen for her dancing ability.

Annette Grows Up

Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, Annette continued performing. She was in various movies and television programs, most famously beach party movies such as Beach Party with Frankie Avalon. During these years she also recorded several top-40 vocal hits.

Annette Funicello Babes in Toyland 1961

Annette Funicello in Babes in Toyland, 1961 (public domain)

Annette’s Personal Life

Annette married Jack Gilardi in 1965. They had three children; Gina, Jack, and Jason, before divorcing in 1981. In 1986, she married horse breeder Glenn Holt.

Annette Funicello wedding

Annette Funicello marries Jack Gilardi at St Cyril’s Church (public domain)

Annette Reveals Her MS

In 1992, Annette revealed that she had been struggling with multiple sclerosis since 1987. She had kept the condition quiet for those five years, but her physical deterioration was leading to rumors of alcoholism which forced her to speak out. Annette told fans, “I think you only have two choices in this kind of situation. Either you give in to it or you fight it. I intend to fight.”

She founded the Annette Funicello Teddy Bear Company which benefits efforts to fight neurological diseases like MS. She also developed a fragrance line, Cello, which is no longer made.

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes

In 1994 Annette published her autobiography, A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes: My Story. A made-for-TV movie based on the book was made the next year, with the final scene showing Funicello herself sitting in a wheelchair. Since the ’90s, Annette has largely withdrawn from public life.

Death

Annette died April 8, 2013, at age 70, due to complications from MS.

Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger said:

Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mouseketeer, and a true Disney Legend. 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. Annette was well known for being as beautiful inside as she was on the outside, and she faced her physical challenges with dignity, bravery and grace.

Were you an Annette fan? Which TV show or movie of hers was your favorite?

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4 thoughts on “Childhood Memories Friday: Mouseketeer Annette Funicello

  1. I had some little girls who loved watching the Mickey Mouse Club on TV and acting out their created routines. That’s about as close as I got to being a fan of Annette.

  2. I loved Annette. She definitely was my favorite Mouseketeer. I thought she and Frankie Avalon were so cute together. When she revealed that she had MS, I was so sad but amazed at how well she handled her situation. The pictures of her during her last few years were heartbreaking.

  3. My little brother, Tom, who is 6 years younger than me, watched Mickey Mouse Club on TV after school most days, or whenever it was on. I noticed Annette back then and liked her enthusiasm and general charm. I do remember hearing that she had MS, but I didn’t know the rest of the story, so thank you for that information. She certainly led an interesting life, especially in those early years as a Mouseketeer
    To be selected by Walt Disney himself was a great honor!

  4. Annette was my favorite. I’m so sorry that she succumbed to MS.

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