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Annette Funicello: An American icon passes

Annette Funicello passed away last week. To many who heard the news it meant the passing of a singer, TV star and movie star.

To us older baby boomers the passing meant much more than that. It was the passing of our childhood innocence. It was the passing of America’s sweetheart — an American Icon. There was something about Annette that can not be described in today’s terms.

We first saw her on the “Mickey Mouse Club” as a Mouseketeer, a must see every afternoon after school. (Every youngster at that time wanted to be a Mouseketeer.) It didn’t matter that the skits were on the corny side; Annette was in them. Both boys and girls enjoyed her shyness, her innocence, her wholesomeness, and that intrigued her followers. She was every boy’s first crush.

She would sing and dance, even dancing ballet called “Annette’s ballet” with many skits centered around her talents. It was reported that she was receiving more than 6,000 letters a month, many from young boys asking her to go steady.

My generation grew up with the brunette with the shy smile. We followed her from the “Mickey Mouse Club” and into the beach movies that she made with Frankie Avalon.

She even fell in love with Paul Anka. She sang his song, “It’s Really Love,” which Paul turned into “Johnny’s Theme,” played as the theme song for the Johnny Carson show. When Paul and Annette broke up he wrote for her the very popular song, “And They Called It Puppy Love.”

She started the show when she was 13, but they tried to make her look younger. But she grew up before our eyes, so Disney made her a teenager in her own show called “Annette.”

She also did a number of TV shows, such as “Zorro” and the popular movie “The Shaggy Dog.” Then there was “Spin and Marty,” a TV short on the “Mickey Mouse Club.” It was a boy’s western style summer camp, but in the second season Annette showed up. Wow, a western with every boy’s dream — Annette.

Ms. Funicello also made a number of albums, having a number of the singles in the top 10. Her biggest hit was “Tall Paul” that was No. 7 on the charts followed by “Pineapple Princess,” which ended up No. 11.

Annette and Frankie Avalon made eight beach movies together. They showed fast cars and teenagers in swimsuits having fun on the beaches of California. Teenagers flocked to their movies.

It was when they were making a remake of the beach movies years later that Annette found out she had multiple sclerosis. She suffered with the disease for 25 years. During that time she was always positive, even going out and raising money to fight the disease.

Growing up as a kid in the ’50s and later being a teenager in the ’60s was a great time for older baby boomers, and now Annette is part of our memories of that innocent time.