On July 17, 1955 Annette Funicello made her television debut during the live broadcast of Disneyland's opening day ceremonies. She participated in a song and dance routine promoting the upcoming debut of Walt Disney's new television show, The Mickey Mouse Club. Following the premier of the show, on Monday, October 3, 1955, The Mickey Mouse Club became an immediate hit. Its army of small, amateur mouse-eared stars took the country by storm. It wasn't long before the young audience of boys and girls developed a particular interest in the little dark haired girl named Annette. Just as she had appealed to Walt Disney himself, when he discovered her at a dance recital, Annette emerged as a favorite among many children across the country, catapulting her to television stardom. As a result, she appeared on numerous magazine covers and a variety of Disney branded merchandise. Walt took advantage of her talents and popularity by featuring her in several Mickey Mouse Club serials, such as The Further Adventures of Spin and Marty and The New Adventures of Spin and Marty. He eventually gave her a twenty-episode serial of her own, simply titled Annette, during what would be the shows final season. Following the cancellation of The Mickey Mouse Club in 1959, Annette was the only Mouseketeer to remain under contract with Disney.
Walt continued to showcase his young star in other TV projects, such as his TV series Zorro, and in movies and specials featured on the various incarnations of his weekly television show, Disneyland (later to become The Wonderful World of Color and then The Wonderful World of Disney). While under contract with Disney, Annette worked on a number of outside projects such as co-starring with Frankie Avalon in a series of popular Beach Party films and making appearances on popular television shows such as Make Room for Daddy, American Bandstand, Wagon Train, Burks Law, Hullaballoo, The Ed Sullivan Show, and Bob Hope's Thanksgiving Special. By 1967 Annette had become a wife and mother and her focus shifted from her career to her family. Although she had completely walked away from other aspects of her career, Annette never left television. While staying busy being a mom she would agree to guest star on a large number of popular shows and specials over the next two decades such as Fantasy Island, Love American Style, The Love Boat, Growing Pains, and Full House to name a few. She was the popular spokeswoman for Skippy Peanut Butter for nine years from the mid 70's through the early 80's and she took part in countless television, radio, and magazine interviews.
In 1987, just a year after she married her second husband, rancher Glen Holt, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a degenerative nerve disorder that affects over two million people worldwide. In 1992, she went public with her battle with the disease and appeared on the cover of People. At the same time, in that year she founded the award winning Annette Funicello Bear Company that produced collectable designer teddy bears. She personally showcased her bear collections on QVC for a number of years, much of the time with popular host Mary Beth Rowe. During these years Annette wrote her autobiography (with Patricia Romanowski), A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, as well as bringing attention to MS and the need for research by sharing her personal story and struggles with the disease. In 1993, she established The Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases whose mission it is to fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of MS and other neurological diseases. In 1995, Annette last appeared in her final public role, as herself, in the CBS Television Movie of her life story based on her autobiography. Today, more than 25 years after being diagnosed with MS, Annette is severely debilitated by the ravages of the disease and requires 24/7 care. Her husband Glen, her primary caretaker (along with a staff of health care workers), lovingly cares for the once vibrant TV, film and recording star. His greatest wish is to fulfill Annette’s dream of helping others through her Research Fund and ultimately finding a cure for MS.
On October 22, 2012, Annette Funicello, who started her show business career as a 13 year-old Mouseketeer, turned 70 years-old.