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Annette Funicello was a special person

ANETTE FUNICELLO   FRANKIE AVALONThose of you old enough to remember the original “Mickey Mouse Club” — and I’m not talking about the lame remake in the late ‘70s with Britney Spears — know that of all the child actors on the weekday show, it was Annette Funicello who became the biggest star. She was certainly my favorite Mouseketeer.

About 22 years ago, when I was working as the TV writer for the Bakersfield newspaper, rumors began to circulate that Funicello and her husband, Glen Holt, were living just outside of town on a horse ranch. I wrote a column saying how big a fan I was and that maybe someday I would run into her at a local store.

The day the column published, I got a call from a man who identified himself as Glen Holt. I was skeptical when he offered to arrange a meeting with Funicello and told him that if this was a joke it would be very cruel.

He wasn’t joking. A few days later, I had dinner with Funicello. It was one thing to be a fan through the black-and-white images I saw on a small TV set when I was a child. Those images didn’t fully show why Funicello deserved to be called “America’s Sweetheart.” She talked to each person in the restaurant like she had known them all her life. It was particularly funny to watch adults send their children to the table — the kids having no idea who she was — as a way for them to come over and meet her.

It was my great honor to have several dinners with her, including the night in 1992 she told me that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the disease that eventually would take her life. She was the one who would have to face the MS, but it was Funicello who did the comforting that night as I tried to deal with the news. The MS would eventually make it impossible for her to walk and eventually take her ability to speak. It never dampened her beauty or spirit.

Funicello and Holt began to spend more time at their home in Tarzana, but we remained in touch. When she got her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, I was invited to stop by their home after the ceremonies. The house was packed, but when I told her that I was leaving she seemed more concerned I take a sandwich to eat on the way home than chatting with all of her friends and family. She had a natural gift to make you feel like you were the most important person in the room.

Funicello passed away in a Bakersfield area hospital with her family by her side. It’s always sad when someone passes away, but it’s a great loss when we lose someone as special as Funicello.

Responses to "Annette Funicello was a special person"

Josh Tehee says:

Funicello was not of my generation. BUT, one of my favorite movies growing up was “Back to the Beach,” which included Funicello doing a song with the ska-band Fishbone. I will be singing this song all week.

Anita Duncan says:

America’s Sweetheart for sure! I remember all the “Beach” movies and even though they were goofy at times, it was always a blast to watch. RIP Annette.

Kathy Mahan says:

What wonderful memories, Rick. Thank you for sharing them. I may not have watched the “Micky Mouse Club,” but I certainly remember watching and enjoying her “Beach” movies. Her warmth was always the highlight. Another sad loss in the entertainment world.

Barbara Eimer Wenzel says:

I remember, while still living in Lincoln, lL as a child, watching the Mickey Mouse Club everyday. We couldn’t wait to see Annette and all the gang. My 68 year old husbund still sings the song and yes Annette was our favorite Mouseketeer. It was so exciting when our family moved to California in ’57 and could visit Disneyland whenever we wanted to go, since we lived next door to Anaheim. We always made sure to go whenever Annette and the Mouseketeers were visiting the Park. Ánd as I grew into my teens, I always made sure to see her movies. Annette was a very sweet and lovely person and will be missed by many.

Shirley Petersen Orr says:

When TV came to Fresno, The Mickey Mouse Show was the number one favorite of the neighborhood kids. Even as we grew and became teenagers, we tuned in to see her. She was kind, beautiful, and genuine. We looked up to her. We wanted to be like her. I’m sorry for her struggles with health. She will be remembered and missed by a whole generation who loved her.

Annette Federico says:

I was named after Ms. Funicello! My older siblings were great fans and suggested the name to my folks. When I would introduce myself and say, “Annette, like the Mouseketeer,” my new acquaintace would always smile. I am fortunate to have had a namesake of whom so many thought so well…and you know what? People remember my name! She will be remembered not only for her girl-next-door image and later her brave struggle against MS, but as the face of a more innocent time.

blake says:

yeah. “ska ska ska”(a friend [from the Kyber Rifles of yore] )said she’d done it on the Mickey Mouse club before that 80′s movie…I knew it from an LP of “Annettes Greatest Hits”..seems to be a recording from the early 60′s

…another good one was the theme song from the movie “The Monkeys Uncle” with the Beach Boys as the backing group—mostly good, goofy fun.

blake says:

“call us a couple of missing links” [falsetto voice: 'she's got the monkey's uncle']

” a boy , a girl,…a chimpanzeeeee”

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