The Original Disney Sweetheart Dies at Age 70

Annette Funicello Dies at Age 70

by Natalie Fertig

Annette Funicello died Monday, April 8, 2013, at the age of 70. Arguably the most popular Mouseketeer on the original “Mickey Mouse Club” in the 1950s, Annette Funicello will forever be remembered as the original Disney Sweetheart.

Discovered by Walt Disney in a production of Swan Lake at age 13, Annette Funicello spent more than 10 years in the spotlight, the heartthrob of many teenage boys across America.

What is most loved and remembered about Annette, however, is her strength of character and her spotless career. When Annette left the Mickey Mouse Club in the early 60s, she was cast as the lead opposite Frankie Avalon in the “Beach Party” movies.

In one account, Annette showed the script for the original BEACH PARTY to Walt Disney, who said it was “great fun,” but who then asked her to not wear a bikini in any of the movies. He wanted her to uphold her wholesome “Disney” image. And, Annette agreed. In all of her “Beach Party” movies, she was consistently the image of wholesome fun – clad in a one-piece swimsuit and refraining from any inappropriate interactions with her male costars.

Annette left showbiz in 1965 in order to start a family. In her 10-year career, she appeared in the TV shows ZORRO (1957), THE NINE LIVES OF ELFEGO BACA (1958), and starred in the Disney feature movies THE SHAGGY DOG (1959), BABES IN TOYLAND (1961), THE MISADVENTURES OF MERLIN JONES (1964), and THE MONKEY’S UNCLE (1965), as well as five “Beach Party” movies. She also recorded multiple top-40 pop singles, including one with the Beach Boys for THE MONKEY’S UNCLE.

Annette’s wholesome legacy is the epitome of what Disney stood for in the 1950s, and many of today’s young stars could learn quite a bit from her. Hollywood will miss her heart and smile.