Born on 22 October 1942, Annette Funicello became an overnight sensation in 1955 when she first appeared on a new afternoon TV show, at the age of 13.
Her appearance as a pretty, intelligent, talented and dignified Mousketeer helped make The Mickey Mouse Club the most popular children’s TV show of 1950s America.
Annette was the 24th and final Mousketeer chosen, and the only one personally selected by Walt Disney.
The show led her to a number of other Disney projects, including her own ‘Annette’ show-within-a-show in 1958 (in which she played a character named Annette McCloud) and a role as the starring girlfriend in The Shaggy Dog (1959).
The 1960s brought more Disney work her way – with Babes In Toyland (1961) and The Monkey’s Uncle (1965) – but it took a series of fun-loving mid-decade beach movies to put her into a bathing suit and more mature situations.
Beach Party (1963), Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), Pajama Party (1964), How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (1965), Dr Goldfoot and The Bikini Machine (1965) and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) all had similar settings, often the same cast, and lightweight plots that were really just excuses for good-looking teens to woo, sing and dance on camera.
Annette surfed the surging swell of popularity into a decent singing career, even though she would later describe herself as being nervous as a vocalist.
She recorded seventeen albums and had 31 hit songs, starting with Tall Paul (1959).
Unfortunately, by 1967 the wave of beach movies had crested and Annette’s movie momentum had wiped out. In the 1970s she made lots of happy peanut butter commercials, and in 1987 she produced and starred in one more beach movie – the bouncy Back To The Beach.
Sadly, during the making of that movie, she began to feel symptoms of what would eventually be diagnosed as multiple sclerosis.
Bravely maintaining her smile and generous spirit, she stayed cheerfully busy in the 1990s by raising money for MS research and pursuing a wide range of interests.She established a collectible teddy bear company, produced a perfume called Cello, and – in 1994 – wrote her autobiography,
She established a collectible teddy bear company, produced a perfume called Cello, and – in 1994 – wrote her autobiography, A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes.
Sadly, her disease severely damaged her nervous system and she had lost the ability to walk by 2004, the ability to speak by 2009, and eventually required round-the-clock care.
Annette Funicello died at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, California, on 8 April 2013, at the age of 70.