Annette Funicello, the former Mouseketeer who gained fame during the 1960s with a series of Beach Party films with fellow co-star and heartthrob of the era singer Frankie Avalon, died today after complications from multiple sclerosis, according to USA Today. She was 70 years old.
Funicello was part of the very first wave of kids who got their start in the acting profession on The Mickey Mouse Club, a program that has run in various incarnations for decades since its premiere in the 1950s, and has also showcased the starts of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Ryan Gosling. After that program, the child actress became a sort of symbol and icon for teenagers across the country with the various versions of the Beach Party films, innocuous vehicles which focused on teenagers in idyllic, light comedic situations, in which song and dance numbers punctuated the somewhat pedestrian narratives. In an early 1960s that was just on the crest of becoming a radical, rebellious decade, filled with unrest and political, social and artistic changes, Funicello’s Beach Party movies represented the tail end of the harmless on the surface, light hearted, safe haven of the 1950s and how teenagers were mainly represented and viewed by the public.
Funicello was rather multi-faceted and tried different forms of media too; she sang and had a few hit singles, in fact crooning a song written by Paul Anka called “It’s Only Love” which instrumentally was reworked a few years later to become the memorable and well-known theme for the Johnny Carson incarnation of The Tonight Show. To later generations she was probably best remembered as the spokesperson for Skippy peanut butter, starting in the late 1970s.
But above all, she will now go down as having the legacy of being one of Disney’s earliest stars, setting the tone that still goes on today with many of the young actresses who are unabashed role models for the millions and millions of youngsters who gaze upon the company’s films and many television shows on its network. She will be most remembered as an icon for that genre of entertainment, a classy woman who always seemed to beam a smile a mile wide, share a laugh with the world, and manifest a calm demeanor and gregarious, disarming presence in all that she did. In an age of rough, reckless, mindless, irresponsible young actors, Annette Funicello was of a different time, of a different age, but with a timeless message in how she carried herself. That alone, should never be forgotten.
RIP Annette Funicello
October 22, 1942 – April 8, 2013
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