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Mouseketeer Annette Funicello dies from multiple sclerosis

By Greg Goodsell
April 8th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

She was a symbol of wholesomeness in a decade that saw tumult and change. The most popular Mouseketeer on TV's "Mickey Mouse Club," Annette Funicello would go on to star in a string of beach party movies. She has died from the insidious disease of multiple sclerosis after a long battle. Funicello was 70.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - She passed away at Mercy Southwest Hospital (Now known as Dignity Health) in Bakersfield, California, of complications from multiple sclerosis, the Walt Disney Company said.

The adorable brunette was just 13 when she gained fame on Walt Disney's television kiddie "club," a combination 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.

Born in 1942, in Utica, N.Y., Funicello's family moved to Los Angeles when she was four years old. She began taking dance lessons the following year and won a beauty contest at 9. She was discovered by Walt Disney in 1955, who she considered a second father and a trusted friend.

"I have been blessed to have a mentor like Walt Disney," she said 40 years later. "Those years were the happiest of my life. I felt that back then. I feel the same today."

When "The Mickey Mouse Club" ended, Funicello was the only club member to remain under contract to the studio. Appearing in such Disney movies as "Johnny Tremain," "The Shaggy Dog," "The Horsemasters," "Babes in Toyland," "The Misadventures of Merlin Jones," "The Monkey's Uncle," Funicello would later star in a series of "beach party" movies. Begun by American International Pictures, the films would paint a fantasy world of sun, surf and awful jokes. 

"Beach Blanket Bingo," "Muscle Beach Party," "Bikini Beach," "Beach Blanket Bingo," "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" and "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine" kept drive-in audiences chuckling through the Sixties.

It was even here that Uncle Walt extended his influence. "Mr. Disney said to me one day, 'Annette, I have a favor to ask of you. I know all the girls are wearing bikinis, but you have an image to uphold. I would appreciate it if you would wear a one-piece suit.' I did, and I never regretted it."

With the arrival of the Beatles in 1964, coupled with Funicello's first marriage the following year pretty much ended the party.

She also became a recording star, singing on 15 albums and hit singles such as "Tall Paul" and "Pineapple Princess."

She and costar Frankie 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 sign of MS. She went public with her ordeal in 1992.

"My equilibrium is no more; it's just progressively getting worse," she would say in TV special. "But I thank God I just didn't wake up one morning and not be able to walk. You learn to live with it. You learn to live with anything, you really do.

"I've always been religious. This just makes me appreciate the Lord even more because things could always be worse. I know he will see me through this."

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