Annette Funicello — the singer, actress and one-time Mouseketeer who became America’s first beach babe — has died at age 70, reports TMZ.
Bob Iger, Disney CEO, released a statement:
Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mouseketeer, and a true Disney Legend. She will forever hold a place in our hearts as one of Walt Disney’s brightest stars, delighting an entire generation of baby boomers with her jubilant personality and endless talent. Annette was well known for being as beautiful inside as she was on the outside, and she faced her physical challenges with dignity, bravery and grace. All of us at Disney join with family, friends and fans around the world in celebrating her extraordinary life.
Here’s what you should know about this American entertainment icon.
1. She Was Part of the First Mickey Mouse Club
Her Disney Legends profile refers to her as “America’s Sweetheart.” Discovered at age 12 dancing in a performance of Swan Lake, she was signed up by Disney to appear in a new children’s weekday afternoon show — The Mickey Mouse Club — in October 1955. This made Funicello a national star.
2. She’s Known for the Beach Party Movies with Frankie Avalon
Funicello rose to fame, starring in beach party genre movies with Frankie Avalon. The series began in 1960 with the aptly titled Beach Party.
Initially, because of her wholesome image and connections to Disney, Funicello was adamant she wear a “modest” bathing suit. Eventually she began appearing in more flattering swimwear and was partly responsible for the widespread success of the two-piece bikini.
Beach Blanket Bingo is generally considered to be the best of the bunch, as this review states:
Beach Party established many of the conventions, but the fourth entry, Beach Blanket Bingo, is probably the most fully realized of the series, combining elements of music, fantasy and farce, teenage lust and lust repressed, and simultaneously worshipful and satirical views of American consumerism. Beach Blanket Bingo begins boldly on the beach itself (unlike Beach Party, which opens with tentative aerial surveys of the beach), with twisting, frugging teenagers and the two principals, Franky (Frankie Avalon) and DeeDee (Annette Funicello) singing to the audience.
3. She Was Also a Renowned Pop Singer
Funicello had two hit singles with “Tall Paul” in 1959 and “Pineapple Princess” in 1960.
4. She Was Born in New York State
Funicello was born in Utica, New York, but moved to the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles when she was 4 years old.
5. She Called Walt Disney a Second Father
After growing out of the Mickey Mouse Club, she remained contracted to Disney and appeared in a string of Disney productions throughout the late 1950s. She later called Walt Disney a “second father.”
6. She Was Referenced in Grease
Her fame garnered her a reference in the Grease song “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee.” The song, which is littered with name drops of 1950/60s stars, goes:
I don’t drink (no)
Or swear (no)
I don’t rat my hair (eew)
I get ill from one cigarette
(cough, cough, cough)
Keep your filthy paws
Off my silky draws
Would you pull that crap with Annette?
7. She Famously Endorsed Skippy Peanut Butter
Funicello began endorsing the product in 1979 and continued into the 1980s. Skippy, the world’s second-biggest-selling brand of peanut butter (after Jif), was known for celebrity spokespeople including Dennis the Menace.
8. She Suffered with MS Since 1987
In 2012, a TV report showed how frail Funicello’s health had become and that she was dependent on round-the-clock care to survive. Her health had been declining for the past 25 years. To help fund her care, she founded the Annette Funicello Collectible Bear Co.
When her home was partially destroyed by fire in 2011, USA Today reported she was at home alone with her nurse. Funicello was treated for smoke inhalation in the incident.
9. She Was Married Twice and Had Three Children
Funicello had three children with her first husband, talent agent Jack Gilardi, to whom she was married from 1965 to 1982. They divorced and she remarried in 1986, this time to harness horse racing owner Glen Holt. She remained married to Holt until her death.
10. Her Children Released a Statement
We are so sorry to lose Mother. She is no longer suffering anymore and is now dancing in heaven. We love and will miss her terribly…