2046) America’s Favorite Mouseketeer

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Annette Funicello (1942-2013) in The Mickey Mouse Club, 1956


“The Asterisk in an Obituary” by Robert Petterson, in The One Year Book of Amazing Stories, Tyndale, 2018, pages 537-538.


     She was as cute as a button, the first crush for a generation of boys.  But the final three years of her twenty-seven-year battle with multiple sclerosis were a waking nightmare.  Once the most recognizable teen on the planet, she was now unable to recognize anyone.  She existed in a coma-like state, propped up in an electrically controlled chair, nearly blind, unable to speak or go to the bathroom on her own.  In those last three years she was fed through a tube.  Her throat had to he cleared several times an hour to prevent her from choking to death.

     There was a time when she was a pop culture icon.  No one received more fan mail than America’s favorite Mouseketeer.  In 1960, a nationwide poll voted her ‘Teenager of the Year.’  Dubbed America’s sweetheart, she went on to drive young men crazy in movies like Beach Blanket Bingo and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.

Annette Funicello huge cleavage in bikini with and Frankie Avalon in Beach Party 24x36 Poster

Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in Beach Party, 1963

     She broke hearts across the land when she married her agent in 1965.  Even Linus deadpanned in a Peanuts cartoon strip, “How depressing… Annette Funicello has grown up!”  After the wedding, she stepped out of the limelight.  But no baby boomer could ever forget the darling of The Mickey Mouse Club who became a beach blanket beauty.

     Annette began to lose control in her legs when she came out of retirement to do a movie in 1991.  A deeply religious woman, she was afraid that people would think she was drunk.  So she went public about her MS.  America applauded her gutsy battle with this degenerative disease.  When she dropped out of sight again, no one knew how much MS was ravaging her.  Nor would anyone have recognized her in the end.  But her family had a front-row seat to her nightmare.  In announcing her death in April of 2013, her children said, “Our mother is now dancing in heaven.”

     Within a week of Annette’s passing, Google recorded millions of hits on her life and death.  Almost every article contained a single throwaway line: “In 1986, she married her second husband, horse trainer Glen Holt.”  Glen was only an asterisk in Annette’s obituary.

     Few folks know that Annette Funicello’s first husband was abusive, or that this horse trainer gave her refuge when she had nowhere to go.  Within a year of their wedding, the was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  Yet during those last years he bathed her, lifted her on and off the toilet, changed her diapers, and attended to her every need.  In the end, America’s sweetheart was ravaged, bloated, and comatose.  It’s easy to love the girl of our fantasies, but Glen loved her in dirty diapers and with bloated flesh—not for a while, but for nine thousand straight days. 

     When asked if it was a burden, he replied, “How can it, be when you love somebody?” 

     Maybe you are one of those unsung heroes who is caring for someone.  If you’re tired and wondering how long you can hang on, know this: 

Anyone can carry a burden to nightfall.  Heroes get up and do it again tomorrow.

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Annette and Glen Holt


Galatians 6:9  —  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

I Corinthians 13:7-8a  —   Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails…

Matthew 19:5b-6  —  (Jesus said), “‘A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh;’ so they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”



O God, out of all the world you let us find one another and learn together the meaning of love.  Let us never fail to hold love precious.  Let the flame of it never waver or grow dim, but burn in our hearts as an unwavering devotion, and shine through our eyes in gentleness and understanding.  Teach us to remember the little courtesies, to be swift to speak the grateful and happy word, to believe rejoicingly in each other’s best, and to face all life bravely because we face it with a united heart.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Walter Russel Bowie  (1882-1969), Rector of Grace Episcopal Church, New York City