Biography: Annette Funicello

Annette Funicello was born on Oct. 22, 1942, in Utica, N.Y. Because she was the first grandchild to both sets of grandparents, she was indulged by her family. As a precocious two-year-old, she could sing every word of the songs on the hit parade.

When she was four, her family moved to Southern California. In 1955, she was discovered by Walt Disney and became the final member of of the original Mouseketeers cast. As the most popular member of the Mouseketeers, she was quickly embraced as “America’s Sweetheart,” and her face and name could be found on a variety of items. Annette never lost her wholesome appeal. annette

Though new episodes of the Mickey Mouse Club aired for only three seasons, the show was seen in reruns for decades afterwards. While all of the original members became household names, Annette was the only original cast member to be offered a contract by Walt Disney when the Mickey Mouse Club ended.

Annette made several movies for Disney, including “The Shaggy Dog”(1959), before moving on to the beach movie phase of her career. She and Frankie Avalon made several very wholesome young love movies together. She had an agreement with Walt Disney that she would not show her navel, which explains why she was often the only girl on the beach not in a bikini. However, in her final beach movie, 1965’s “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini”  she was finally seen in a bikini.

Annette had a relatively successful music career; she released several albums and singles. She married her agent, Jack Gilardi, in 1965 and they had three children together before divorcing in 1981. During those years, she dedicated herself to being a wife and mother. She is best remembered for her Skippy Peanut Butter commercials from her adult career.

She remarried in 1986, and in 1987 was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, news that she kept hidden for five years. She established a foundation to research the disease at that time. She was not seen much in recent years, and it was reported that she was in a coma as the result of her illness. On Monday April 8, 2013 she was removed from life support.

Annette left behind her husband, Glen Holt, her former husband, Jack Gilardi, her three children, Gina Portman, Jack Gilardi Jr. and Jason Gilardi, four stepchildren, 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She is remembered fondly by a legion of fans for whom she will always be that perky little girl on the original Mickey Mouse Club.

Photo credit:  Public Domain

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