Annette Funicello was 12 when Walt Disney discovered her at a ballet-class recital at the Burbank Starlight Bowl in the spring of 1955. He was scouting children for "The Mickey Mouse Club" and she soon became one of the exclusive club's all-time most popular members.
As a Mouseketeer, she never considered herself the prettiest girl or the best dancer. But her friendly, unpretentious smile dazzled audiences. When the show ended, she turned to pop music with a rather thin voice. But it was echoed and multiplied in the recording studio to create the "Annette sound" that fans loved.
Barely 20, with a voluptuous figure, she starred with Frankie Avalon in "Beach Party," the first surf movie. Although she never bared her navel — her promise to Disney — the film was a huge hit and launched a string of sequels with Avalon.
Then, in her mid-20s—at the peak of her fame—she retired for the life of the typical Valley mom: car-pooling to school and softball games while raising a daughter and two sons.
Not until 1987 did she make a feature film comeback with the nostalgic spoof "Back to the Beach." Reviews were favorable, and a sequel was in the works when her lucky star dimmed. Multiple sclerosis forced her to retire. Now in a wheelchair, she is still perky—and quite lovely—as she makes appearances on behalf of charitable causes.
Funicello died April 8, 2013, from complications of multiple sclerosis at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield. She was 70.