While the day's news was dominated by the death of former British Prime Minister (Lady) Margaret Thatcher, there was another significant loss in Annette Funicello who died at age 70 after a 21 year battle with Multiple Sclerosis. Funicello gained popularity as a child star on the original Mickey Mouse Club with Disney. Afterwards, Funicello became a teen idol by starring in a series of Beach movies with Frankie Avalon and singing pre-British Invasion popular music.
Current Disney Chairman Bob Igor released a statement eulogizing Funicello:
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.The Disney corporate homage touches upon what truly made Annette Funicello special. While one can sentimentally remember a childhood television show or clean cut teen targeted celluloid which served as a backdrop make out movie for a generation of Baby Boomers, it was not just the roles that Funicello played, but her beautiful persona that shined through.
Annette's inner beauty shining through was best displayed as she dealt with her multiple sclerosis. Funicello went public with her debilitating disease which she had kept secret until 1992 to stifle rumors that her difficulty walking was due to alcoholism. Eventually, her MS deprived her of mobility and in 2009 the ability to speak.
Funicello gave an honest interview with Entertainment Tonight which recognized the challenges yet still saw positivity to her plight. When her autobiography was produced as a made for tv movie, the final scene had the actress playing Funicello turn around in her wheelchair and the real Annette gave a message to children.
Yet one of the messages which Annette Funicello drew from her experience with Multiple Sclerosis was life affirming.
So as she ascends the Stairway to Heaven, may Annette Funicello's spirits be lifted with the dulcet determination she sang of in Oh Dio Mio: