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The Heartbreaking Way Annette Funicello Spent Her Final Years

Annette Funicello was an actress that was best known for being one of the first and most popular child performers on Walt Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club, as well as for her subsequent performances in the series of beach films that started with 1963’s Beach Party. In 1987, Annette was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and the debilitating disease gradually ate away her nervous system over the course of her remaining decades, leading to her death in 2013. Join Facts Verse as we explore the heartbreaking way Annette Funicello spent her final years.


Annette Funicello got her start in the entertainment industry at an early age, when she was cast in the then-new Walt Disney program The Mickey Mouse Club. She subsequently became one of the show’s most popular performers and found continued success as a young adult in the film Beach Party, and it’s numerous sequels. She also starred in some Walt Disney feature films, including The Shaggy Dog.

Other things that Annette was notable for during her lifetime including a time working as a spokesperson for Skippy peanut butter, which further increased the public’s awareness of the star. Sadly, Annette’s career in the entertainment industry all came crashing down after 1987, when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Annette then spent the remaining decades of her life combatting the illness, both for her own sake and for future generations’.

Annette was born on October 22, 1942, in Utica, New York. When Annette was still young, her family moved her out to the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. Annette was only four years old at the time, and it wasn’t long before she would become a part of the city’s bustling entertainment industry. She was talented at both singing and dancing as a young girl, which led to her performing in a professional capacity at an early age. She wound up performing in a production of Swan Lake that was being put on by Walt Disney at the Starlight Bowl, located in Burbank, California.

It was 1955 when Annette performed in Walt Disney’s production of Swan Lake at the Starlight Bowl, and she was subsequently invited by the mogul to audition for a new show that he was brainstorming. That show turned out to be The Mickey Mouse Club, and Annette blew Walt out of the water during the audition. She was brought onto the show and given significant time on the screen, quickly becoming the most popular of the show’s numerous child performers.

The child performers on The Mickey Mouse Club were dubbed the “Mouseketeers”, and Annette was the most popular of them all during her time on the show. She was just 13 years old when she took up the gig, and children loved getting the chance to watch someone their own age performing on the screen – not to mention the fact that Annette was an incredibly talented performer for her age!

Annette’s time on The Mickey Mouse Club took advantage of both her singing and her dancing skills. She grew to have a great deal of respect for Walt Disney during her time on the series, and stayed under contract with the company for a period of time after leaving the show behind. Annette had shared that she considered Walt to be something of a second father to her, and claimed he was a child at heart.

Although Annette was certainly incredibly talented going into her tenure on The Mickey Mouse Club, she claimed that her time on the series was a great learning experience. Unlike numerous other child stars throughout the decades, Annette never went on to share any bad experiences about her time on the show that made her famous. Instead, she continued to appreciate all that her time on the program had done for her career. After leaving The Mickey Mouse Club, Annette appeared on numerous other programs under the Disney brand, and also in some of it’s feature films.

Some of the other Disney programs that Annette appeared on during her time with the company included Zorro in 1957 and The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca in 1958. Following these appearances, Annette was promoted to starring in feature films, with her most memorable appearance in a Disney film being her turn in the 1959 comedy feature The Shaggy Dog. Besides The Shaggy Dog, she could also be seen in the Disney features Babes in Toyland and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, as well as the latter film’s sequel: The Monkey’s Uncle. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! While you’re at it, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!

During Annette Funicello’s later days with Disney, she decided to branch out and start appearing in features for a slightly older audience. In 1963, Annette appeared in the film Beach Party alongside Frankie Avalon. The film was a massive success, and it catapulted Annette out of the box that her Disney success had put her in. The film ended up spawning several successful sequels, all of which Annette returned for. As well, both her and Frankie came back to the series two decades later to parody the concept in the 1980s.

The many sequels to 1963’s Beach Party included 1964’s Muscle Beach Party, 1964’s Bikini Beach, 1965’s Beach Blanket Bingo, and 1965’s How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. The films made Annette a hit with the teen audience, and she capitalized on her status as a teen idol by entering into a career as a pop singer. During this period of time, Annette released several successful singles that managed to enter into the Top 40. These singles included “Pineapple Princess”, “How Will I Know My Love”, and “Tall Paul”.

Annette’s career calmed down after the success of her beach films, though she later revisited the beach alongside Frankie Avalon in the 1987 feature Back to the Beach. The film was released by Paramount and featured Annette and Frankie playing the parents of a couple of teenagers looking to get into the same kind of fun that they did in the 1960s. However, this film wasn’t the end of Annette and Frankie’s attempts to capitalize on their beach films later on in life.

Not long after Paramount’s release of Back to the Beach, Annette and Frankie teamed up for a concert tour where they performed many of the songs from their hit 1960s beach films. The tour was meant to take advantage of nostalgia for the era amongst the now-aging audience, and was a modest success for the two stars. Sadly, Annette would announce some devastating news soon after the tour was over.

Having recently performed her successful tour with Frankie Avalon, Annette felt it was time to come clean to her fans about the battle that she had been waging for several years. In 1987, Annette had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. By 1992, she no longer felt like she was going to be able to hide the illness from the public, and she spent the remaining decades of her life growing increasingly more affected.

Once Annette came out with the news that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she began dedicating her life to combatting the illness. Not only did Annette attempt to ward off the effects that the illness was having on her body, but she also began fundraising for increased research into how the disease might be prevented for future generations. In 1993, a year after coming out publicly with her diagnosis, Annette founded an organization by the name of the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Disorders. As the name suggests, the point of the organization is to fundraise for increased research into neurological disorders, with a special emphasis on multiple sclerosis.

In addition to starting the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Disorders, Annette also started the Annette Funicello Teddy Bear Company. The company was created to market a range of collectible bears, much of the proceeds from which have gone to the actress’s research fund. Annette also created her own perfume called Cello by Annette, which also benefited neurological research.

Despite all that Annette did in her fight against multiple sclerosis, she still ended up gradually succumbing. Second husband Glen Holt aided her throughout her fight. The two had married in 1986, just a year before Annette received her diagnosis. Annette was previously married to Jack Gilardi, and the two had three children together. During Annette’s later years, she resided in San Fernando Valley with her second husband, the same place she had grown up.

Annette was 50 years old when she announced to the world that she had been suffering from multiple sclerosis for several years. In the time after the announcement, Annette slowly lost the ability to walk. At first, she could get around using a cane, but she eventually had to start relying on a wheelchair. Once she lost her ability to speak, the actress knew that it was time for her to leave the public spotlight.

During Annette’s battle against multiple sclerosis, she attempted many revolutionary methods in an attempt to combat the illness. One of these methods saw the actress have electrodes implanted into her brain to quell her tremors, while another saw her taking an experimental drug that resulted in a week-long hospital stay. While nothing ended up doing the trick for Annette, she remained optimistic that, somewhere down the line, a true answer to the problem of multiple sclerosis would be found. It was for this reason that Annette was so adamant about fundraising for increased research into neurological conditions.


Although Annette Funicello’s career in the entertainment industry sadly came to an end soon after her multiple sclerosis diagnosis, the actress still performed in many memorable roles during her early years. Comment down below to share how you best like to remember Annette Funicello, or if you were saddened to learn about how much she was affected by her illness during her later years. As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!

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