“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!
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.