Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Annette Funicello Dies of Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

Annette Funicello Dies of Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

Famous Mouseketeer-Turned-Beach-Movie-Star Was 70

By Diane Wedner, Lifescript Health Writer
Published April 16, 2013

Learn About Annette Funicello's Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
Annette Funicello
 Annette Funicello, who lit up America’s screens from TV’s “Mickey Mouse Club” to her popular “beach party” movies, died at age 70 from complications of multiple sclerosis symptoms. Find out

how the actress and singer dealt with the debilitating condition, which she bravely fought for 25 years...

Picture a girl with dark bouncing curls, a twinkle in her eye, a dazzling smile and a bubbly personality. Top off that image with mouse ears, and one name springs to mind: Annette Funicello.

The actress, dancer and singer died April 8, 2013, from complications of multiple sclerosis (MS), after fighting the disease for 25 years.

Funicello captured America’s heart as a young teen on TV’s “The Mickey Mouse Club” in the 1950s and later cemented her stardom with the 1960s “beach party” movies. 
 In 1987, she was diagnosed with the chronic, debilitating central nervous system disease.

MS causes your body’s immune system to eat away at myelin, the protective sheath covering your nerves. That interferes with the communication between your brain, spinal cord and other areas of your body, according to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The nerves may suffer irreversible deterioration.

It was while filming the 1987 reunion movie “Back to the Beach” with her longtime co-star and friend, Frankie Avalon, that the actress noticed she was having difficulty walking – an early multiple sclerosis symptom.

“When I'd try to get up, I couldn't balance,” she told People magazine. “Frankie would say, ‘Look at you – you look like you've had too much to drink.’ And I'd say, ‘Frankie, this is just the weirdest thing.’” 
 As her multiple sclerosis symptoms progressed, she began to lose control of her legs and worried that fans might also get the wrong idea about her condition. So she decided to disclose her illness to the public in 1992.

“What was getting out there was that she was drinking, because [with] MS, obviously you’re not steady on your feet,” says Arlene Ludwig, a longtime Walt Disney Company publicist and one of Funicello’s close friends. “She was so brave, and just so forthcoming [in discussing her illness].”

The severity of multiple sclerosis symptoms varies significantly among patients, says neurologist William Hornstein, M.D., director of the Fountain Valley Multiple Sclerosis Center at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif.

A large percentage of cases today is mild, he notes. Patients take medications such as natalizumab (Tysabri) and mitoxantrone (Novantrone), which inhibit the immune response that causes multiple sclerosis symptoms, along with interferon, IRN beta and glatiramer acetate, which reduce the nerve-damaging inflammation. 

Multiple sclerosis symptoms typically include:

  • Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs
  • Partial or total loss of central vision, usually in one eye, and blurred vision
  • Tingling or pain in parts of your body
  • Electric-shock sensations that occur with certain head movements
  • Tremor, lack of coordination or unsteady gait
  • Slurred or loss of speech
  • Fatigue and dizziness

“When diagnosed with MS [today], patients don’t have to picture themselves in a wheelchair,” he says. “It’s a serious disease, but most people get through it and have a good family life. They work close to retirement age.”

But when Funicello was diagnosed 25 years ago, treatment options were limited and the damage could be much more severe, Dr. Hornstein adds.

 Multiple sclerosis symptoms led the actress and dancer to depend first on a cane, then a walker and finally a wheelchair, according to Reuters news service.

In recent years, she couldn’t speak, and she communicated with her family by blinking or motioning, her step-grandson Canaan McDuffie told the Californian, a newspaper in Bakersfield, Calif., where Funicello lived.

Funicello said that her lifelong Catholic faith helped her deal with the disease.

Still, it was very difficult for her.

“People say to me, ‘Oh, you're so strong. It's just great the way you're taking it,’” she told People. “They don't see my down side ever. I do have times, when I'm all alone and the house is very quiet, when I cry, and sure, I think, ‘Why me? Why me?’ But I believe everything happens for a reason, and I know now that my mission is to help others raise funds for MS,” she said.

In 1993, she spearheaded the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Disorders, in Shafter, Calif., to help work toward a cure.

Because every case of MS is unique, it’s hard to say why she eventually succumbed to her illness.

“The disease itself doesn’t kill MS patients,” says Dr. Hornstein, who was not Funicello’s doctor. “It’s the complications, from heart or lung disease to blood clots, infection or pneumonia. A 70-year-old woman who had the disease for 25 years probably experienced muscle degeneration and atrophy and skin issues. She may have suffered mini-strokes that developed into more major strokes.”

“It was painful to see her struggle so many years with MS,” McDuffie told the Californian. “She just never gave up, never, ever complained. It was just the definition of strength.” 
A Life of Early FameFunicello was born in Utica, N.Y., in 1942, and her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 4. She started dance lessons at 5, won a poolside beauty contest and did some modeling, according to her website.

In 1955, the perky, pretty dance student, then 12, was discovered by Walt Disney when he saw her perform as the lead in “Swan Lake.”

She was the last of 24 young Mouseketeers chosen for “The Mickey Mouse Club,” a kids’ variety show that aired on weekday afternoons. The program showcased talented youngsters who performed song-and-dance routines.

Soon after, she became a star on the show. Known simply as Annette, she was inundated with 6,000 to 8,000 fan letters weekly, 10 times more than her costars, according to Fox News reports.

Her image appeared on lunch boxes, “Annette” dolls and comic books and mystery novels that detailed her fictionalized adventures. In her 1994 autobiography, A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes, she describes receiving from male fans school rings and engagement rings, which she returned. 
The original “Mickey Mouse Club” series ran for three seasons. Afterward, Funicello was the only Mouseketeer to remain under contract to the studio, according to her website.

She later appeared in the 1957 TV show “Zorro,” and starred in Disney features such as 1959’s “The Shaggy Dog” and 1961’s “Babes in Toyland.”

Meanwhile, she made a series of hit pop records; her 1959 song “Tall Paul” was the first by a female singer to reach the top 10 on the rock ’n’ roll charts.

Then her “beach party” movies, made with Avalon in the mid-’60s, hit the silver screen like a tsunami. America’s teens went wild for the bikini-clad revelers dancing and flirting on the sand – although Funicello never actually wore a bikini in the films, at Walt Disney’s request.

The films, which also starred comic actors such as Mickey Rooney, Don Rickles and Buster Keaton, were dismissed by critics as fluff, but they were a popular staple of the youth market. 
In 1965, the actress married her agent, Jack Gilardi, with whom she had three children, Gina, Jack and Jason; the couple divorced 18 years later. She then married racehorse trainer Glen Holt in 1986, and he eventually became her primary caregiver.

She continued making occasional movies, along with some fondly remembered Skippy peanut butter commercials, but mostly she concentrated on raising her children. Eventually, her multiple sclerosis symptoms made it difficult for her to continue performing.

“She will always hold a place in our hearts as one of Walt Disney’s brightest stars, delighting an entire generation of baby boomers with her jubilant personality and endless talent,” said Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger in a statement.

And to fans, many of who felt as if they grew up with her, Annette always remained the sweet, upbeat girl in mouse ears who could sing, dance and melt hearts.

For more information and expert advice, visit Lifescript's Multiple Sclerosis Health Center.

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1 comment:

  1. maggie.danhakl@healthline.comApril 4, 2014 at 3:06 PM


    Healthline just launched a video campaign for MS called "You've Got This" where individuals living with MS can record a short video to give hope and inspiration those recently diagnosed with MS.

    You can visit the homepage and check out videos from the campaign here: http://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/youve-got-this

    We will be donating $10 for every submitted campaign to the National MS Society, so the more exposure the campaign gets the more the videos we'll receive and the more Healthline can donate to MS research, support groups, treatment programs, and more.

    We would appreciate if you could help spread the word about this by sharing the You've Got This with friends and followers or include the campaign as a resource on your page: http://outfoxednews.blogspot.com/2013/12/annette-funicello-dies-of-multiple.html

    Please let me know if this is possible and if you have any questions. And, if you know anyone that would be interested in submitting a video, please encourage them to do so.

    Maggie Danhakl • Assistant Marketing Manager
    p: 415-281-3124 f: 415-281-3199

    Healthline • The Power of Intelligent Health
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