Annette Funicello RIP

ANNETTE FUNICELLO, 70, the first lust object for many a Baby Boomer in her role as a 13-year-old Mouseketeer on the original Mickey Mouse Club, before growing into a pop cult icon as a movie star and singer, died from complications due to multiple sclerosis, a disease she battled for more than 25 years. Funicello was born in Utica, NY, and was four years old when her family moved to L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, where she was discovered by Walt Disney at age 13 while dancing the lead in Swan Lake at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank and hired on the spot for his new children’s TV series, The Mickey Mouse Club. The show debuted on Oct. 3, 1955 and Annette soon became the most popular member of the group. She remained under contract to Disney and appeared on the TV shows Zorro and The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca, while starring in the Disney feature films The Shaggy Dog, Babes in Toyland, The Misadventures Of Merlin Jones and The Monkey’s Uncle. In the early ‘60s, she starred in a series of beach party movies with fellow teen idol Frankie Avalon, including Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Beach Blanket Bingo and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. During this time, she recorded a series of Top 40 hit singles like “Tall Paul,” “First Name Initial,” “How Will I Know My Love” and “Pineapple Princess.” Her string of successful record albums included Hawaiiannette, Italiannette and Dance Annette. In 1987, Funicello again teamed up with Avalon to co-produce and star in the Paramount film Back to the Beach as parents of a pair of troublesome teenagers. In 1989 and 1990, Avalon and Funicello staged a nostalgic concert tour, performing the music they made famous in the ‘60s. Funicello was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1987, and in 1992 went public with her illness. Later that year, she established the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases, which continues as an active chartiy. In the ‘90s, she launched the Annette Funicello Teddy Bear Company on QVC, and developed her own perfume line, Cello, by Annette. In 1992, on her 50th birthday, she was named a Disney Legend. She retreated from public appearances in the late ‘90s as her health continued to deteriorate. (4/8p)

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