Annette Joanne Funicello passed away today, April 8, 2013 at the age of 70 due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis. Although she began her career at early age of 12, it was Walt Disney's "Mickey Mouse Club" that catapulted her to prominence. Walt had discovered her while attending a performance of "Swan Lake" at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank, California. She was known as a "triple threat" while appearing on the original (and best) version of the Mickey Mouse Club in the 50s. She could dance, sing, and act. The latter was showcased in part with her later feature length films including 60's classics like "Beach Party" and "Beach Blanket Bingo" with long time friend and co-star Frankie Avalon.
I met Annette a couple of times in the late 1970s through her brother Mike who worked at the Disney Studios Library that I used to haunt on a weekly basis. She was in doing a taping for the 1970's version of the Mickey Mouse Club and then again when she did a spot for the reunion that was aired on "Disney's Wonderful World" around 1980. She was very busy and on her way to the taping but stopped to chat with me outside the soundstage. I'll never forget that. In 2011 her Encino, California home was engulfed in fire from which she managed to escape without any serious injury however many priceless mementoes were lost. To add to the pain, some of her neighbors sued Funicello claiming the fire had caused some damage to their nearby homes as well.
Annette announced in 1992 that she was indeed suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. She had kept her condition private known only to close friends and family. She had to curtail dancing as the condition worsened but when she lost the ability to walk she felt it necessary to go public about the disease. Her efforts resulted in the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders at the California Community Foundation. For me, Annette will always best be remembered for her wonderful role as the "queen" of the Mickey Mouse Club and her sweet and kind way with everyone she came across. As the old Mickey Mouse Club show used to share in song, now it is indeed, " ... time to say goodbye..." and thank you for the wonderful memories Annette.