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Farewell to a teenage dream

Saying goodbye to ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’ star

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Original Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer Annette Funicello was a proto–Britney Spears, without the tabloid troubles — a child star of the 1950s who parlayed dance skill, likability, and good looks into megastardom. When Funicello died on April 8 at the age of 70 after a decades-long struggle with multiple sclerosis, her legacy had matured far beyond the kids’ show where she got her start. From the beginning, Funicello stood out, receiving by far the most fan mail (6,000 letters per week at one point). Eventually, the dark-haired beauty became a pinup for preteen boys and a role model for girls. Her popularity led to a surprise singing career — she often joked about her vocal limitations — and to a string of campy beach movies with Frankie Avalon, like 1965’s Beach Blanket Bingo. Through it all, her fellow Mouseketeers thought of her only as their generous friend Annie. ”We all loved her,” Mouseketeer Tommy Cole told me for my book Why? Because We Still Like You, about The Mickey Mouse Club. ”She’s just one of those special people who stayed the same throughout their fame.”

(A former EW writer, Armstrong is also the author of Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, about The Mary Tyler Moore Show, due May 7.)