‘Beach Blanket Bingo’ Star Dies at 70

In the late 50’s and well into the 60’s Annette Funicello was well known for her role as a Disney Mouseketeer on the immensely popular Mickey Mouse Club. Funicello later became famous for her Beach Blanket Bingo series of teen themed movies with costar singing sensation Frankie Avalon. Most of Funicello’s fans are now in the bingo playing age group but remember her films fondly. This week Annette Funicello dies from complications of Multiple Sclerosis, a disease she had courageously battled for years. She was 70 years old.

Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company said in a statement “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.” The Disney Company said that Annette died peacefully at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield California.

In 1992 Funicello shocked fans with her announcement of her ailment. In spite of the challenges Funicello was cheerful and upbeat and displayed an amazing level of courage. Funicello was just 13 when she gained fame on the Mickey Mouse Club, a collection of stories, songs and dance routines that ran from 1955 to 1959. Annette was cast after Walt Disney saw her at a dance recital. Disney’s instincts were right on and soon the new Mouseketeer was receiving 8,000 fan letters a week, 10 times more than any of the other 23 performers. Funicello remained devoted to Disney and once said “He was the dearest, kindest person, and truly was like a second father to me. He was a kid at heart.”

By the early 60’s she had outgrown the kid roles at Disney and teamed up with Frankie Avalon for the Beach Blanket Bingo series of teen oriented movies. While none of the films achieved critical success they were immensely popular with teens in the US and Europe. Some of the films had cameo appearances by older stars including silent film great Buster Keaton who had a cameo role in Beach Blanket Bingo. The shift in tastes brought about by the Beatles and Rolling Stones killed the beach movie genre.

Funicello remains popular with an older crowd and will be fondly remembered by a whole generation. The movies were so popular that a few internet bingo sites even offered games based on the beach blanket bingo genre. Funicello always remained grateful to Disney and once said “I have been blessed to have a mentor like Walt Disney. Those years were the happiest of my life. I felt that back then. I feel the same today.”