You'd have to be up there in years a bit to get that title. Or at least be up on your Mickey Mouse Club knowledge. But trust me...it could have not be more appropriate for this latest bit of sad news. Anyone who knows anything about the Mikey Mouse Club will quickly tell you she was the best of the bunch.
Original Mousekateer Annette Funicello passed away Monday due to complications from multiple sclerosis. She was 70-years-young.
I have to make sure to make this one of my best tribute posts for selfish reasons. For one, Mom instructed me to do so. Annette was her favorite Mousekateer out of the whole bunch. For more than just her stint on that show though. Also for the several beach party movies she made in later years. But another reason being that I rather dug Annette myself. She was a class act that remained true to an unblemished image for years and years. Not many stars, especially those that were former child actors, can make that same claim.
My first real exposure to Annette was when I was just a shorty. Not even in junior high yet. Teandra and I would summer at Popoo and Grandma's place. Every daily afternoon, channel 41 would show reruns of a the original Mickey Mouse Club. This was before cable so we had to watch it on a 13-inch grainy tv. Annette immediately caught my eye. She easily had that certain something that all the others lacked. And to this day, I couldn't remember the name of any of the others except for her. Okay...well maybe Jimmie too because he just looked disturbingly older than all of the other kids on the show.
It would be much later that I would grow to appreciate the whole beach party craze that Annette created in conjunction with Frankie Avalon. But it wasn't because of the movies they did when they were in their 20s or so. I wasn't even born when those hit back the 60s. It was when they did a reunion movie of sorts with the 1987 flick "Back to the Beach". Here was a cheesy 80s flick that was reincarnating the cheesy fun they originated in the 60s. And what stood out to me was how well Annette had kept herself up after all those years. She was in her mid-40s by that time looking better than most of the 20-somethings that were cast alongside her.
The thing about those beach movies is even though Annette was in a bikini they were still tastefully done. This is he 60s we're talking about. AND she was a former Disney icon. No way were they going to have her disgracing the Disney brand. But more importantly, there was no way she was going to have it either. That's the difference between the Mousekateers of that time and the ones that would star in the later incarnations of the show. Hard to believe that the likes of Brittany Spears and Christina Aguilera came from the same television background that brought us Annette. Her wholesome image that remains consistent throughout the years is one that only comes around once a lifetime.
Unfortunately, that 1987 film would end up being Annette's last major starring role. We would eventually finding out that's the same year she had been diagnosed with MS. It wasn't actually made public until 1992. That made it all the more special when she made a cameo in the made-for-TV movie about her life called "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes".
It's pretty amazing that Funicello was able to live with MS for 25 years. There's no doubt that's why she had been out of the public eye for the past several recent years. We know MS weakens a person as it makes them a shell of their former self. Annette most likely wanted us all to remember her for the smile that lit up the screen with that matching personality that exuded joy. Mission accomplished. We thank you for the memories.
Rest in peace, Annette.