Annette Funicello Brings Public Awareness to MS

by Dani Price

“For me, the wheelchair symbolizes disability in a way a cane does not.” – Annette Funicello

In 1992, Funicello announced that she had been battling multiple sclerosis, a degenerative neurological disease, since 1987.

To assist in fundraising to fight neurological disorders, she founded The Annette Funicello Teddy Bear Company, which markets a line of collectible bears.

A portion of the proceeds from these products goes to The Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases.

This is her story.

Annette was born in Utica, NY. Her mother and father; Joseph, an auto repair shop owner and Virginia Funicello a homemaker, were Italian-Americans.

As a child she was very shy, her parents enrolled her in dance and music classes to help her overcome her shyness. She was four years old when her family moved to Southern California

At the age of 12 she was discovered by Walt Disney when he attended her dance recital. He, then chose her to be one the original Mouseketeers. She appeared in several TV shows and movies as she grew up. Most people remember her from the movie “The Shaggy Dog”. She then moved to American International Pictures.

She, then, married her first husband, Jack Giraldi, who was her agent in 1965. They were divorced in 1982. They had three children together. She later married her second husband, Glen Holt, who was a racehorse breeder in 1986. They are still married today.

Annette began feeling that something was wrong in 1987. She was having issues with her balance, and then shortly after she noticed her eyesight seemed to be getting worse. After seeing an ophthalmologist multiple times she was referred to a neurologist.

The neurologist ordered an MRI and confirmed that she had multiple sclerosis. She didn’t know much about the disease but was relieved it wasn’t a brain tumor.

After the diagnosis in 1987, Annette only told her mother and her husband. She was able to hide it for several years due to the fact that she felt pretty good. Two years later she told her father. She had symptons like tingling and numbness in her feet and hands. But these would come and go. At one point she had a viral infection and fever that left unable to walk. However, once the infection was gone the symptoms left as well.

Then, in 1991, the numbness and tingling in her hands and feet returned. She was also experiencing vertigo, and began using a cane to steady herself. She began receiving questions from friends, family and the media and she finally decided to go public with her illness. She went nationwide with her diagnosis of MS.

Annette tried numerous therapies that were available then. Steroids, acupuncture, acupressure, herbal medicines and vitamin B-12 shots in her legs but none of these treatments seemed to help. Her Catholic faith and her determination have helped her cope with MS, and her family has become closer. Her husband has been loyal and by her side.

She once said, “When I wake up in the morning, I like to imagine, “This is the day I’m going to hear about an MS cure on the news.” I know it may be a long way off, but what a glorious morning that will be.” ~ Annette Funicello People Magazine – August 17, 1992

Annette Funicello was the first celebrity that I learned had MS. My friend brought me the copy of Annette’s “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”. Of course Kristy was hesitant to share the movie with me because I was still in denial and was too afraid to think of such possibilities as life in a wheel chair. Unfortunately I’m recognizing MS is a very popular disease to have. Well, with all the money floating around our hope for a cause to be found is greater!

Are you as amazed as I am about the celebrities showing up with multiple sclerosis?

About the author:
Dani Jane Price was 9 years old when her mom was diagnosed with MS. She graduated with a bachelors degree in Child and Family Development from Southern Virginia University. Dani is happily married to a wonderful husband of 5 years and dedicates her time to nurture and raise her two beautiful daughters. Dani is a talented singer, enjoys music and participates in the community.


About our Co-Founder: With a bachelors in Social Work, Linda is 53 years old, happily married with eight children and 17 grandchildren. Diagnosed with MS in 1995 and now having accepted and truly embraced her new reality, Linda has created She is dedicated to proving that joy can be chosen while living with Multiple Sclerosis. Linda specializes in helping others, especially those with MS attain the lifestyle, independence and happiness amid living with MS.


  1. Hey there, You have performed an incredible job.
    I will definitely digg it and personally recommend to
    my friends. I am confident they will be benefited from this site.

  2. Are you on a ms therapy now? I have ms and am not on a
    Therapy because l also have not had luck with a few.

    • Margaret,
      I always say before I give any advice that I’m not a Dr. I’m just a mom with MS! I know of people who have taken all different paths with their MS. I didn’t get on any pharmaceuticals for the first 5 years because I was waiting for the symptoms to prove that I have MS. When it hit it put me out! I was in bed pretty much for a few years. I learned that the symptoms are just the tip of the iceberg, I had lots of activity going on in my central nervous system before I experienced symptoms. I tease about it being all in my mind! The MS society suggests we get right on an imunosuppresive drug right away. Right now I’m on Gilenya, and I love not using an injectable! So you did try some and they didn’t work well? I’d l would love to hear more of your circumstance~ tell me more…

  3. I lost my best friend from high school (Janine) on July 12, 2012, battling MS. She was diagnosed in 1999. The doctors have no knowledge how long she had it. A proud, strong will, woman worked with what she had without a wheel chair and walked mostly without a cane. My best friend was a Christian who raised her only child with love, support and discipline. She had witness him getting his degree before he goes to medical school Fall 2012. My best friend was delicated in the arts who loved playing her flute and sang in her church choir. As her best friend, I will make sure she will get an honorary degree who she couldn’t because battling her condition and will find a Music Foundation in her name.


    • ahhh,
      Thank you for sharing this story~ I am happy for Janine that she had you for a friend! So many of those with MS isolate themselves and suffer alone. It looks like Janine didn’t do that and had your love and support through her life. God Bless you,

  4. My daughter was diagnosed with MS in 1987. I’d never heard of it so I got a volunteer secretarial job with the MS Society for the next 10 years learning what an unpredictable disease this is. Tam started Cop 1 when it was experimental and has been on it since however she became secondary progressive and is now badly challenged with hands and legs. I’ve hoped and contributed to research for 25 years! Now I feel Romney for President, Ann Romney for First Lady and advocate is a new great hope for stimulating research. She w ill keep it in the National forefront along with breast cancer…two very serious challenges. My daughter’s medical needs have been met through Medicare disability. I don’t want polititians making decisions for her, her doctors are already severly challenged. When I was with the MS Soc, before GHW disability insurance was a big problem for MS people in remission and on disability because of the unpredictable course of MS and need for support when exacerbations arrive, and need to return to a valid life style and career when they evaporate without jeopardizing future disability. Let’s give Ann Romney a leading role in health care for MS, someone who has been there, not just read about it!

    • Joan,
      Thank you for sharing~ I’m sorry to hear that Tam is secondary progressive. I wish she (and the rest of us suffering) was one of the ones who are asymptomatic~ Unfortunately it’s not always the case! I always jokingly say ‘MS is a popular disease to have!’ And I’m very glad that famous, rich people have it too! Like you, I hope for a cure and the money towards research will definitely help! And Ann could take the leading role in health care!

  5. Thanks for this. We have followed Annette’s situation with interest. My wife has been paraplegic from MS from 1994-2004 and quadriplegic thereafter. Our story is in our
    memoir, Ting and I, available from Every day is a blessing.

    • Douglas,
      I am very sorry to hear about you wife’s situation. She is fortunate to have such a caring husband through her tumultuous life with MS. I am going over to order your book asap! I really want to know more about you and your wife~ possibly an interview for our MSrelief community~ we are planning to launch an online TV show next summer called ChooseJoyTV. Would you be open to our putting on a list of guests that we’ll call on in the spring to book a date?

  6. Thanks to one of my friend who told me about this informative blog. Great job performed by you Dani and interesting story. In spite of your problem you worked with bravery.

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