There's no telling how many boys in the 1950s counted Annette Funicello as their first crush, but I bet the number at the very least compares with the WWII GIs who leered at the Betty Grable pinup photos, the 1970s adolescents who had the Farrah poster (guilty as charged), and whoever the Flavor of the Day is currently.

Heck, even I adored Annette, and I wasn't born until her years as a Mouseketeer were long over with.

They used to show reruns of the "Mickey Mouse Club" on UHF TV (remember that?) while I was somewhere in my early teens (circa 1976) and I had heard of this supposed "cute" girl Mouseketeer named Annette.

Then I saw her---the Kewpie doll face, the big, dark eyes, the jet black hair, all bobbed. And a smile that could light up Broadway. I was hooked.

Those poor boys never had a chance.

To be honest, I'm not sure adolescent boys have female crushes like we did back in the day. When I was growing up, part of the fun of having a crush on a female celebrity was the difficulty in accessing said celebrity's images and sightings on TV.

In other words, when you were lucky enough to catch her appearing on TV or see a photo in a magazine or something, it was a huge bonus.

Today's boys can fire up the computer, Google the object of their affection, and their screen fills with images of said girl.

What's the fun in that? Part of the excitement was the thrill of the chase!

Annette Funicello's career---and life---was front-loaded. Most of the good stuff happened when she was between the ages of 13 and 40. After that, not so much.

She contracted Multiple Sclerosis before she was 50, back in 1992. Needless to say, the final 20 years of her life were nowhere near as fun as the first 20.

Annette is gone now, passed away earlier this week from complications from MS. She was 70---maybe the oldest 70-year-old in show business.

Slowly but ever so surely, the MS robbed her of her quality of life. She lost the ability to walk in 2004, the ability to talk in 2009, and eventually needed 24/7 care just to stay alive. The end probably couldn't have come soon enough, sad to say.

But the images I have of Annette Funicello are, and will always be, of her young and vibrant---and not just as part of the Mickey Mouse Club. Don't forget all the "Beach" movies she made in the 1960s with good friend Frankie Avalon, when the cute teen had grown into a beautiful woman.

For once, one of those canned statements that corporations release when someone connected with them passes away, hit the mark.

Here's Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company:

"Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mouseketeer, and a true Disney Legend. She will forever 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. Annette was well known for being as beautiful inside as she was on the outside, and she faced her physical challenges with dignity, bravery and grace. All of us at Disney join with family, friends, and fans around the world in celebrating her extraordinary life."

Why? Because, Annette, we love you.


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