Annette Funicello, who became a child star as a cute-as-a-button Mouseketeer on The Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s, then teamed up with Frankie Avalon on a string of ’60s fun-in-the-sun movies with names like Beach Party Bingo and Bikini Beach, died Monday. She was 70.
She died at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, Calif., of complications from multiple sclerosis, the Walt Disney Co. said.
Funicello stunned fans and friends in 1992 with the announcement about her ailment. Yet she was cheerful and upbeat, grappling with the disease with a courage that contrasted with her lightweight teen image of old.
The pretty, dark-haired Funicello was just 13 when she gained fame on Walt Disney’s television kiddie “club,” an amalgam of stories, songs, and dance routines that ran from 1955 to 1959. She appeared in mouse ears, a pleated skirt, and a sweater emblazoned with her name.
Cast after Disney saw her at a dance recital, she soon began receiving 8,000 fan letters a month, 10 times more than any of the 23 other young performers.
When The Mickey Mouse Club ended, Annette (as she was often billed) was the only club member to remain under contract to the studio. She appeared in such Disney movies as Johnny Tremain, The Shaggy Dog, The Horsemasters, Babes in Toyland, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, and The Monkey’s Uncle.
She also became a recording star, singing on 15 albums and hit singles such as “Tall Paul” and “Pineapple Princess.”
Outgrowing the kid roles by the early ’60s, she teamed with Avalon in a series of movies for American-International, the first film company to exploit the burgeoning teen market. The shift in teen tastes begun by the Beatles in 1964, and Funicello’s first marriage the following year pretty much killed off the genre.
But she was somehow never forgotten though mostly out of the public eye for years. She and Avalon staged a reunion in 1987 with Back to the Beach. It was during the filming that she noticed she had trouble walking — the first insidious sign of MS. She wrote of her triumphs and struggles in her 1994 autobiography, A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes — the title taken from a Disney song.
Funicello was born Oct. 22, 1942, in Utica, N.Y., and her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 4. She began taking dance lessons the following year and won a beauty contest at 9. Then came the discovery by Disney in 1955.
In 1965, Funicello married her agent, Jack Gilardi, and they had three children, Gina, Jack, and Jason. The couple divorced 18 years later, and in 1986 she married Glen Holt, a harness racehorse trainer.
trip to Cuba.Jay-Z’s and BeyonceTwo Cuban-American congressional representatives from Florida have written the Treasury Department asking for information on
U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart say they want information on the type of license the R&B power couple received to travel to the communist island. U.S. citizens are not allowed to travel to Cuba for mere tourism, though they can get a license for academic, religious, journalistic, or cultural exchange visits. The artists marked their fifth wedding anniversary in Havana last week.
2 more years
Judge Judy — Judy Sheindlin — and CBS Television Distribution said Monday that the feisty former New York state judge, 70, has signed on for two more years of Judge Judy. It is one of the top daytime TV shows, seen by roughly 10 million people each episode.
The new deal extends her contract through 2017. That would give her 21 years on the air. She reportedly earns $45 million a year.