Annette Funicello
Funicello in 1975
Annette Joanne Funicello

(1942-10-22)October 22, 1942
DiedApril 8, 2013(2013-04-08) (aged 70)
  • Actress
  • singer
Years active1954–1998
Jack L. Gilardi
(m. 1965; div. 1981)
Glen D. Holt
(m. 1986)

Annette Joanne Funicello (October 22, 1942 – April 8, 2013) was an American actress and singer. She began her professional career at age 12, becoming one of the most popular Mouseketeers on the original Mickey Mouse Club.[1] In her teenage years, Funicello had a successful career as a pop singer recording under the name "Annette". Her most notable singles are "O Dio Mio", "First Name Initial", "Tall Paul", and "Pineapple Princess". During the mid-1960s, she established herself as a film actress, popularizing the successful "Beach Party" genre alongside co-star Frankie Avalon.

In 1992, Funicello announced that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1987. She died of complications from the disease on April 8, 2013.

Early life

Annette Joanne Funicello was born in Utica, New York, to Virginia Jeanne (née Albano),[2] and Joseph Edward Funicello. Her family moved to Southern California when she was four years old.[3] She was of Italian American heritage.[4]


The Mickey Mouse Club

Funicello as a Mouseketeer on The Mickey Mouse Club (1956)

Funicello took dancing and music lessons when she was a child in order to overcome her shyness. In 1955, the 12-year-old was discovered by Walt Disney when she performed as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake at a dance recital at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank, California. Disney cast her as one of the original Mouseketeers. She was the last to be selected, and one of the few cast members to be personally selected by Walt Disney himself.

In 1955, she signed a seven-year contract with Disney at $160 a week that would rise to $500 a week if all options were exercised.[5][6]

Funicello proved to be very popular and by the end of the first season of The Mickey Mouse Club, she was receiving 6,000 letters a month, more than any other Mouseketeer.[7] She dated fellow Mouseketeer Lonnie Burr.[8][9] Saying goodbye to cast members in the 1958 show finale, Funicello said "I never cried so hard in my life".[10]

In addition to appearing in many Mouseketeer sketches and dance routines, Funicello starred in several serials on The Mickey Mouse Club. These included Adventure in Dairyland, the second and third Spin and Marty serials – The Further Adventures of Spin and Marty (1956) and The New Adventures of Spin and Marty (1957) – and Walt Disney Presents: Annette (1958) (which co-starred Richard Deacon).[citation needed]

Singing career

In several scenes in the Annette serial, she performed the song that launched her singing career. The studio received so much mail about "How Will I Know My Love" (lyrics by Tom Adair, music by Frances Jeffords and William Walsh),[11] that Walt Disney issued it as a single, and gave Funicello (somewhat unwillingly) a recording contract.[12]

A proposed live-action feature, The Rainbow Road to Oz, was to have starred some of the Mouseketeers, including Darlene Gillespie as Dorothy and Funicello as Ozma. Preview segments from the film aired on September 11, 1957, on Disneyland's fourth anniversary show.[13] By then, MGM's The Wizard of Oz had been shown on CBS Television for the first time. Theories on why the film was abandoned include Disney's failure to develop a satisfactory script, and the positive reception of the MGM film's television screening. Disney ultimately replaced this film project with a new adaptation of Babes in Toyland (1961), which starred Funicello as Mary Contrary.[citation needed]

Post-Mickey Mouse Club

Funicello and Richard Tyler on The Danny Thomas Show (1959)

After the Mickey Mouse Club, Funicello remained under contract with Disney for a time. She had a role on the Disney television series Zorro, playing Anita Cabrillo in a three-episode storyline about a teen-aged girl arriving in Los Angeles to visit a father who does not seem to exist. This role was reportedly a 16th birthday present from Walt Disney, and it was the first of two different characters she played opposite Guy Williams as Zorro.[14][10] She had a multiple-episode guest arc on Make Room for Daddy as an Italian exchange student.[15]

Funicello made her feature film debut in the Disney-produced comedy The Shaggy Dog (1959) with Fred MacMurray and Tommy Kirk. The film was a success at the box-office.[16]

Although uncomfortable being thought of as a singer, Funicello had a number of pop record hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s, mostly written by the Sherman Brothers and including: "Tall Paul", "First Name Initial", "O Dio Mio", "Train of Love" (written by Paul Anka) and "Pineapple Princess". They were released by Disney's Buena Vista label. She also recorded "It's Really Love" in 1959, a reworking of an earlier Paul Anka song called "Toot Sweet" (which was later reworked again into Johnny's Theme for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson).[citation needed]

In an episode of the Disney anthology television series titled "Disneyland After Dark", Funicello can be seen singing live at Disneyland. Walt Disney was reportedly a fan of 1950s pop star Teresa Brewer and tried to pattern Funicello's singing on the same style. However, Funicello credits "the Annette sound" to her record producer, Tutti Camarata, who worked for Disney in that era. Camarata had her double-track her vocals, matching her first track as closely as possible on the second recording to achieve a fuller sound than her voice would otherwise produce.[citation needed] Early in her career, she appeared on the NBC interview program Here's Hollywood.[12]

In December 1959, Funicello attempted to have her contract with Disney set aside, claiming that it was unequitable and that she was without an agent or legal counsel when she signed it. She was receiving $325 a week (About $3,000 in 2020 dollars). The court refused.[17]

Return to Disney

In 1961, Funicello returned to Zorro playing a different role. She starred in a big budget musical for Disney, Babes in Toyland (1961), alongside Tommy Sands and Kirk.[18]

She also appeared in two television movies filmed in Europe for Disney alongside Kirk, both of which were released theatrically in some markets: The Horsemasters (1961), shot in England, and Escapade in Florence (1962), filmed in Italy.[19] It has been pointed out that although Disney had Funicello under contract a long time "he never seemed to have much faith in her abilities to carry a film (she usually supported the boy)."[20]

Beach party series

Funicello and Frankie Avalon at the height of the Beach Party era

Funicello moved on from Disney to become a "teen idol", starring in a series of "Beach Party" movies with Frankie Avalon for American International Pictures. These started with Beach Party (1963) when Funicello was 21 years old. The movie was so successful American International Pictures signed Funicello to a seven-year contract and starred her in a series of beach party movies.[21]

Funicello guest-starred on episodes of Wagon Train, Burke's Law and The Greatest Show on Earth, then starred in another two-part Disney telemovie with Kirk, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964). This was released to cinemas in the US and became a surprise box office hit.

Also popular were the follow ups to Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party (1964) and Bikini Beach (1964).

Billboard advertisement for Annette's Beach Party, July 20, 1963

When she was cast in her first beach movie, Walt Disney requested that she wear only modest bathing suits and keep her navel covered. However, she wore a pink two-piece in Beach Party, a white two-piece fishnet suit in the second film (Muscle Beach Party) and a blue and white bikini in the third (Bikini Beach). All three swimsuits bared her navel, particularly in Bikini Beach, where it is visible extensively during close up shots in a sequence early in the film when she meets Frankie Avalon's "Potato Bug" character outside his tent.[22]

Funicello made Pajama Party (1964) for AIP with Kirk, not Avalon, though it was an unofficial Beach Party movie and Avalon made a cameo. Avalon was back as Funicello's co-star in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), then she and Kirk did a sequel to Merlin Jones, The Monkey's Uncle (1965). The Monkey's Uncle featured Annette singing with The Beach Boys and was another huge hit.[23]

Funicello made a cameo in two AIP comedies starring Avalon, Ski Party (1965) and Dr Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), then she did How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965) with Dwayne Hickman. Box office receipts for the series were in decline, and neither Avalon nor Funicello appeared in the final installment, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966).

Stock-car racing films

AIP tried a new formula with stock car racing films, starting with Fireball 500 (1966) which starred Funicello, Avalon and Fabian Forte. The movie was popular enough for them to try another stock car movie, Thunder Alley (1967) with Funicello and Fabian. It would be her last lead in a feature film for two decades.

Funicello guest starred on Hondo and had a short role in Head (1968), opposite The Monkees.

1970s and 1980s

During the 1970s, Funicello focused on raising her family. However she still occasionally acted, making guest appearances on shows like Love, American Style, Easy Does It... Starring Frankie Avalon, Fantasy Island and The Love Boat.

In 1979, Funicello began starring in a series of television commercials for Skippy peanut butter.[24] Her role as spokesperson for the brand forced Funicello to turn down a role in Grease 2.[25] In November 1985, she starred in the 16th episode of the Disney Channel documentary series Disney Family Album in an episode about her career.[10]

She starred in a TV movie for Disney, Lots of Luck (1985), and was reunited with Avalon in Back to the Beach (1987). The two also performed together live.[26]

Later career

Funicello's autobiography, A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: My Story, was dictated to Patricia Romanowski and published in 1994. The title was taken from a song from the Disney movie Cinderella. A television film based on the book, A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: The Annette Funicello Story, appeared in 1995. In the final scene, the actress portraying Funicello (Eva LaRue), using a wheelchair, turns away from the camera and when turning back, Funicello herself appears to deliver a message to a group of children.

During this period, Funicello produced a line of teddy bears for the Annette Funicello Collectible Bear Company.[3] The last collection in the series was made in 2004. She also had her own fragrance called "Cello, by Annette".[citation needed]

"Now that I've gone public with my illness, they can't do enough," she said in 1994. "They even send me home remedies to try. Everyone says, 'God bless you and I'm praying for you.'" [7]

Funicello made her final public appearance on September 13, 1998 at California's Multiple Sclerosis Society with Frankie Avalon.[27]

Personal life

Funicello and Frankie Avalon reunited for the television special Good Ol' Days, 1977

Funicello's best friend was actress and singer Shelley Fabares, whom she had met in a catechism class when they were teens. Fabares was a bridesmaid at Funicello's first wedding. Funicello was also very close to fellow Mouseketeers Lonnie Burr (her first boyfriend), Sharon Baird, Doreen Tracey, Cheryl Holdridge, Disney co-star Tommy Kirk and beach-movie co-star Frankie Avalon. She dated Canadian singer/songwriter Paul Anka and he wrote his hit song "Puppy Love" about her.[28]

Marriages and children

Funicello was married to Jack L. Gilardi (1930–2019) from 1965 until 1981. They had three children: Gina Portman (born 1965), Jack Jr. (born 1970) and Jason (born 1974). In 1986, she married California harness racing horse breeder/trainer Glen D. Holt (1930–2018).[3][29] The couple was frequently seen attending harness horse races at the Los Alamitos Race Course and Fairplex in Pomona in the 1980s and 1990s.

In March 2011, Funicello's longtime Encino, California, home caught fire. She suffered smoke inhalation, but was otherwise unharmed.[30] After the fire, Funicello and Holt lived in a modest ranch that they had purchased decades earlier, located just south of Shafter, California (north of Bakersfield), where she lived her remaining years.[31]

Illness and death

In early 1987, at around 45 years old, Funicello reunited with Frankie Avalon for a series of promotional concerts to promote their film Back to the Beach. She began to experience dizziness, headaches, and balance issues and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. For the next five years, she hid her condition from her family and friends until 1992 when she finally publicly disclosed her diagnosis[32] to combat rumors that her impaired ability to walk was the result of alcoholism. In 1993, she opened the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders at the California Community Foundation.[33]

The Canadian program W5 profiled Funicello in 2012 after 15 years out of the public eye, revealing that her disease had severely damaged her nervous system. She had lost the ability to walk in 2004, had lost the ability to speak half a decade later in 2009 and required a feeding tube, needing round-the-clock care in order to survive. Funicello's close friend Shelley Fabares also appeared in the profile piece.[34][35]

On April 8, 2013, Funicello died at age 70 at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, California, from complications attributed to multiple sclerosis. Her family and Fabares were with her when she died.[36] A private funeral was held at the Cherished Memories Memorial Chapel in Bakersfield.[37] Commenting on her death, Walt Disney Company chairman and CEO Bob Iger said:

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.[38]


The power pop band Redd Kross's 1980 song "Annette's Got The Hits" was inspired by Funicello.[39]

In 1992, Funicello was inducted as a Disney Legend.[40] She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for motion pictures on September 14, 1993; it is located at 6834 Hollywood Blvd. In 1995, she appeared on a Disney TV documentary commemorating the 40th anniversary of The Mickey Mouse Club.

In the Disney Village shopping and dining area of Disneyland Paris, a 1950s themed restaurant called Annette's Diner is named after her.



Numbers in parentheses after title indicate peak position in Billboard charts.[41]


Year Titles (A-side, B-side)
Both sides from same album except where indicated
Record Label Peak chart positions Album
US Billboard US Cashbox CAN CHUM
1958 "How Will I Know My Love"
b/w "Don't Jump to Conclusions"
Disneyland 102 55 41 Annette
"That Crazy Place from Outer Space"
b/w "Gold Doubloons and Pieces of Eight" (Non-album track)
Disneyland 114
1959 "Tall Paul"
b/w "Ma, He's Making Eyes at Me"
Disneyland 118 7 18 6
"Jo Jo the Dog Faced Boy"
Original B-side: "Lonely Guitar"
Later B-side: "Love Me Forever"
Vista 336 73 59 33
"Lonely Guitar" /
"Wild Willie"
Multiple releases with each title as A-side
Vista 339 50 51
"Especially for You"
b/w "My Heart Became of Age"
Vista 344
"First Name Initial" /
"My Heart Became of Age" (from Annette)
Vista 349 20
16 The Story of My Teens
1960 "O Dio Mio"
b/w "It Took Dreams" (from Annette)
Vista 354 10 13 20
"Train of Love"
b/w "Tell Me Who's the Girl" (from The Story of My Teens)
Vista 359 36 47 13 Annette Sings Anka
"Pineapple Princess"
b/w "Luau Cha Cha Cha"
Vista 362 11 15 13 Hawaiiannette
"Talk to Me Baby"
b/w "I Love You Baby"
Vista 369 92 98 Annette Sings Anka
1961 "Dream Boy"
b/w "Please Please Signore"
Vista 374 87 Italiannette
"Indian Giver"
b/w "Mama Mama Rosa (Where's the Spumoni)" (from Italiannette)
Vista 375 Non-album track
"Blue Muu Muu"
b/w "Hawaiian Love Talk" (Non-album track)
Vista 384 107 Hawaiiannette
"Dreamin' About You"
b/w "Strummin' Song" (from The Story of My Teens)
Vista 388 106 Non-album track
1962 "That Crazy Place from Outer Space"
b/w "Seven Moons (Of Batalyre)" (by Danny Saval and Tom Tyron, non-album track)
Vista 392 Annette
"The Truth About Youth"
b/w "I Can't Do the Sum"
Vista 394 The Story of My Teens
"My Little Grass Shack"
b/w "Hukilau"
Vista 400 Hawaiiannette
"He's My Ideal"
b/w "Mister Piano Man" (from The Story of My Teens)
Vista 405 Non-album tracks
"Bella Bella Florence"
b/w "Canzone d'Amoure"
Vista 407
"Teenage Wedding"
b/w "Walkin' and Talkin'"
Vista 414
1963 "Promise Me Anything"
b/w "Treat Him Nicely"
Vista 427 123 Annette's Beach Party
1964 "Merlin Jones" (with The Wellingtons)
b/w "The Scrambled Egghead" (with Tommy Kirk)
Vista 431 Muscle Beach Party
"Custom City"
b/w "Rebel Rider"
Vista 432
"Muscle Beach Party"
b/w "I Dream About Frankie"
Vista 433
"Bikini Beach Party"
b/w "The Clyde"
Vista 436 Annette at Bikini Beach
"The Wah-Watusi"
b/w "The Clyde"
Vista 437
1965 "Something Borrowed, Something Blue"
b/w "How Will I Know My Love" (New version of Annette's 1958 recording)
Vista 438 Something Borrowed, Something Blue
"The Monkey's Uncle" (With The Beach Boys)
b/w "How Will I Know My Love" (from Something Borrowed, Something Blue)
Vista 440 Annette at Bikini Beach
"Boy to Love"
b/w "No One Else Could Be Prouder"
Vista 442 Golden Surfin' Hits
1966 "No Way to Go but Up"
b/w "Crystal Ball" (from Something Borrowed, Something Blue)
Vista 450 Non-album track
1967 "What's a Girl to Do"
b/w "When You Get What You Want"
(Annette's name is misspelled on both sides as "Annettte")
Tower 326 Thunder Alley (Soundtrack)
1981 "(Together We Can Make A) Merry Christmas"
b/w "The Night Before Christmas"
(Duets with Frankie Avalon)
Pacific Star 569 Non-album tracks
1983 "The Promised Land"
b/w "In Between and Out of Love"
Starview 3001 Country Album


Funicello as a participant in Seattle Seafair's Torchlight Parade, 1963

Television work



  1. ^ McLellan, Dennis (January 9, 2009). "Cheryl Holdridge dies at 64; popular Mouseketeer". Los Angeles Times.
  2. ^ "Virginia Funicello Obituary (2007) - Encino, CA - The Desert Sun". Retrieved June 15, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c "Annette Funicello Biography (1942–)". Crystal Reference, A&E Television Networks. 2003. Archived from the original on April 8, 2010. Retrieved March 30, 2007.
  4. ^ Marling, Karal Ann (June 5, 1994). "The Girl in the Mouse Ears". The New York Times. Retrieved May 31, 2024.
  5. ^ "Annette Funicello Fails to Set Aside Contract: Young Singer Wanted Court to Act on 1955 Pact Made With Disney Productions". Los Angeles Times. December 18, 1959. p. B14.
  6. ^ "Article 2 -- No Title". Los Angeles Times. November 10, 1955. p. A1.
  7. ^ a b Griffith, Mary Jo (June 21, 1994). "Annette Funicello shares life cheerfully Profile: The former Mousketeer thrives on the most demanding role of her life: herself". The Orange County Register. p. F04.
  8. ^ "Annette Funicello's first kiss: Former Mousketeer Lonnie Burr of Beaverton praises the late star". The Oregonian. April 9, 2013. Retrieved June 15, 2023.
  9. ^ Schmidt, Chuck (October 30, 2015). "Mouseketeer Annette Funicello offered dating advice in a 1964 teen magazine". Staten Island Advance. Retrieved June 15, 2023.
  10. ^ a b c "Disney Family Album #16-Annette Funicello". YouTube. October 21, 2013. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  11. ^ Disney Fake Book. New York: Hal Leonard Corporation. 1996. p. 74. ISBN 0-7935-4521-8.
  12. ^ a b "Oct 22nd Happy 65th Birthday Annette" (video interview). You Remember Archived from the original on December 24, 2007. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  13. ^ Disneyland segment on YouTube (August 4, 2007). Retrieved on April 20, 2013.
  14. ^ Korman, Seymour (February 7, 1959). "Annette Is Getting Older...: Hollywood". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. c3.
  15. ^ "Ex-Mouseketeer Wins Thomas Role". Los Angeles Times. December 14, 1958. p. G6.
  16. ^ Pryor, Thomas M. (July 30, 1958). "Mayor, Out West, Sees Film Studio: Visits Fox Lot, Meets Stars and Governor Knight -- Blaustein Script Added". The New York Times. p. 18.
  17. ^ Stanley, Fred (March 26, 1944). "Hollywood Mulls Court Decisions". The New York Times. p. 1. ProQuest 106872448.
  18. ^ Hopper, Hedda (January 26, 1961). "Annette Funicello to Star in Disney Film". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. a9.
  19. ^ Hopper, Hedda (August 20, 1960). "Walt Disney Will Film Romantic Teen Comedy". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. n17.
  20. ^ Vagg, Stephen (March 19, 2022). "Movie Star Cold Streaks: Hayley Mills". Filmink.
  21. ^ Gary A Smith, American International Pictures: The Golden Years, Bear Manor 2013 p 211
  22. ^ "The Myth of the Hidden Navel". Archived from the original on January 3, 2014. Retrieved February 20, 2012.
  23. ^ Cotter, Bill (1997). The Wonderful World of Disney Television. New York: Hyperion Books. ISBN 0-7868-6359-5.
  24. ^ "History of Skippy". Unilever. 2012. Archived from the original on May 18, 2012. Retrieved April 10, 2013.
  25. ^ Popson, Tom (June 20, 1982). "Movies: 'Hey, What Floor Am I On?!' A Frenetic Day in Chicago for a Producer Born Too Late". Chicago Tribune. p. f20.
  26. ^ "Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello at Golden Nugget". Los Angeles Times. January 13, 1991. p. F79.
  27. ^ "Annette Funicello final public appearance Entertainment Tonight". YouTube. November 23, 2014. Archived from the original on November 14, 2021. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  28. ^ Annette Funicello. Retrieved on April 20, 2013.
  29. ^ "You Wanted To Know". The Australian Women's Weekly. November 3, 1982. p. 186.
  30. ^ Oldenburg, Ann (March 12, 2011). "Annette Funicello suffers smoke inhalation down g fire". USA Today. Retrieved March 17, 2011.
  31. ^ Jennifer Self, "Annette Funicello's family: She fought until the end" Archived April 13, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, The Bakersfield Californian, April 8, 2013.
  32. ^ "Annette Funicello Fund For Neurological Disorders". California Community Foundation. 2008. Archived from the original on January 23, 2008. Retrieved January 28, 2008.
  33. ^ "Annette Funicello Research Foundation". Archived from the original on May 11, 2013.
  34. ^ "Annette Funicello: Her life with multiple sclerosis". CTV. October 5, 2012. Retrieved October 12, 2012.
  35. ^ "Annette Funicello_life with M.S.-Mid Oct 2012 / Passed April 8th 2013". YouTube. April 18, 2013. Archived from the original on November 14, 2021. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  36. ^ Silverman, Stephen M. (April 8, 2013), "Annette Funicello Dies at 70 After Long Battle with MS". Retrieved on April 20, 2013.
  37. ^ "Funeral Services For April 11, 2013" Archived December 3, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, The Bakersfield Californian, April 11, 2013. Retrieved on April 23, 2013.
  38. ^ "Beloved Disney Mouseketeer and Iconic Teen Star Annette Funicello Dies at Age 70". D23. April 8, 2013. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  39. ^ Redd Kross: Steve McDonald WHAT'S THE STORY? Interview w/ Dan Kennedy April 21, 1997 San Francisco, April 10, 2022, retrieved July 16, 2022
  40. ^ "Disney Legends". Disney. 2005. Retrieved September 27, 2007.
  41. ^ "Billboard Artist Annette Funicello". Retrieved February 20, 2012.
  42. ^ "CHUM Chart results". Archived from the original on February 8, 2006.