Fans of Disney’s original incarnation of “The Mickey Mouse Club” and 1960s teen beach comedies are mourning the loss of Annette Funicello, who died today after a more than two decade long battle with multiple sclerosis.
Funicello was discovered by Walt Disney himself, and while she was the last Mouseketeer to be cast, she quickly became a fan favorite. She starred in a 19-part series entitled “Annette,” a recurring segment of “Clubhouse.” Her tenure with Disney would continue beyond her Mouseketeer days. She made guest appearances on series like “Zorro,” “The Adventures of Spin and Marty,” and “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.” She also appeared in Disney films from “The Shaggy Dog” with Fred McMurray and Tommy Kirk and “The Monkey’s Uncle” with Tommy Kirk. Funicello sang the theme song from “Monkey’s Uncle” with the Beach Boys. She also starred as Mary Contrary in the 1961 version of “Babes in Toyland.”
Beach movies would also become associated with Funicello after she co-starred in a series of light-hearted romantic comedies opposite singing sensation, Frankie Avalon. Her appearances in films like “Muscle Beach Party,” “Bikini Beach,” “Beach Blanket Bingo,” and “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” soldified Funicello’s sweet, girl-next-door persona. So ingrained was this image of boomers as swinging beach cats, that in 1987 Funicello and Avalon paired up again in “Back to the Beach.” Funicello would also appear in the antiwar comedy “Good Morning, Vietnam” when Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) attends a screening of “Beach Blanket Bingo” dubbed into Vietnamese.
Starting in 1979, Funicello appeared in a series of commericals for Skippy Peanut Butter. Her image as beach cutie had evolved into happy mom. Her appearances stopped after 1987 when she was diagnosed with multiple sceloris. She remained active with the help of family and friends for as long as she could, according to a September 2012 article for “D23,” a Disney fan magazine. In 1992 she was presented with a Disney Legends Award which honors those who have made lasting contributions to the Walt Disney Company. She joined the likes of Fess Parker, Sterling Holloway, Fred McMurray, Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas, Ward Kimball, the Sherman Brothers, and others.
Funicello’s beach films are streaming on Netflix, and you can purchase a DVD collection of “The Best of the Mickey Mouse Club.”
Those interested in contributing to the foundation established by Annette Funicello and her family to support multiple sclerosis research should visit The Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases.