Funicello, one of the best-known members of the original
1950s "Mickey Mouse Club" and a star of numerous 1960s
"beach party" films, died Monday at a California hospital,
the Walt Disney Co. said. Funicello, who was 70, "died
peacefully from complications due to multiple sclerosis, a
disease she battled for over 25 years.
Walt Disney saw her
dancing the lead in "Swan Lake" at the Starlight Bowl in
Burbank when she was 13. Disney asked her to audition for a
new children's TV series he was developing called "The
Mickey Mouse Club." She was hired on the spot to become a
Mouseketeer, Disney's statement said.
She became the viewers'
favorite soon after the show debuted in October 1955.
Although only three original seasons were produced, the show
continued to be see in reruns for another four decades.
Doctors diagnosed Funicello with multiple
sclerosis, a degenerative neurological disease, in 1987. She kept
the illness a secret until 1992, the year she established The
Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases. The
charity, which is still active, supports research into the cause,
treatment and cure of multiple sclerosis and other neurological
I, along with thousands of
other starry-eyed teenage males, was in love with Annette. I used to
rush home from school to watch the Mickey Mouse Club just to get a
glance of her. I even wrote to Walt Disney requesting they send me a
picture (the very one you see above). Fortunately for me and
my internal struggle to stay a kid, or become a young man, I decided
to focus on gals a little closer to home.
But you might say Annette was my first love. Well, at least one of
the the first ones.