Annette Funicello died today at 70, of complications from multiple sclerosis. Her body of work was a bit before my time, but IMDB tells me that she starred in five movies with “bikini” in the title and five with “party” in them, and for that she has my undying respect.
Annette Funicello, the most popular Mouseketeer on “The Mickey Mouse Club,” who matured to a successful career in records and ’60s beach party movies but struggled with illness in middle age and after, died Monday, The Walt Disney Co. said. She was 70.
She died peacefully at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, Calif., of complications from multiple sclerosis, the company said.
True story: my dad has multiple sclerosis (a much milder case than Annette Funicello’s, luckily), which is his excuse for smoking lots of weed.
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.
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.
Her devotion to Walt Disney remained throughout her life. “He was the dearest, kindest person, and truly was like a second father to me,” she remarked. “He was a kid at heart.”
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, Annette teamed with Frankie Avalon in a series of movies for American-International, the first film company to exploit the burgeoning teen market.
The films had songs, cameos by older stars and a few laughs and, as a bonus to latter-day viewers, a look back at a more innocent time. The 1965 “Beach Blanket Bingo,” for example, featured subplots involving a mermaid, a motorcycle gang and a skydiving school run by Don Rickles, and comic touches by silent film star Buster Keaton.
Among the other titles: “Muscle Beach Party,” ”Bikini Beach,” ”Beach Blanket Bingo,” ”How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” and “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.” [BigStory/AP]
I’m sorry it took a sad day like this to make it happened, but it sounds like I’m long overdue for a beach party movie viewing party. There will be so much swingin’ music and hip shaking. TMZ, meanwhile, takes care to remember the important things:
Annette was bigger than Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling combined. She was the fantasy — largely because of her breasts — of millions of teenage boys. [TMZ]
My hope is that one day, my success will be ascribed to my breasts in the last line of my obituary (not that they were necessarily wrong…). Also, a troubled Disney star whose success came from nice breasts – how is Ryan Gosling a comparison but Lindsay Lohan isn’t?
Why have I not seen all of these movies? It’s like I’ve found the source of all my favorite sound effects. (*sproing*)(*banana peel*)(*record scratch*)