Annette Funicello Loses Battle With Multiple Sclerosis

Annette Funicello became iconic three times in her career.

The first time, in 1955, at the age of twelve, when Funicello rose to prominence as one of the most popular “Mouseketeers” on the original Mickey Mouse ClubFresh faced and talented, she quickly became the Mouseketeer girls wanted to emulate and boys wanted to date.

In the 1960’s, she became a pop-culture icon when she established herself as a film actress in the popular and successful “Beach Party” franchise alongside co-star Frankie Avalon.

In 1987, Funicello reunited with Frankie Avalon for a series of promotional concerts to promote their film Back to the Beach. She began to suffer from dizzy spells. Doctors diagnosed Funicello with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative neurological disease, in 1987, but kept her failing health from her friends and family.

In 1992, Funicello announced that she was suffering from multiple sclerosis. She felt it necessary to go public to combat rumors that her impaired ability to walk was the result of alcoholism. At this time she began her most important role. She became a public face for a baffling disease:

I think you only have two choices in this kind of situation. Either you give in to it or you fight it. I intend to fight.

To that end, in 1993, she opened the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders at the California Community Foundation.

In 1994 she spoke to Katie Couric about her illness:

Over the next several years, her disease severely damaged her nervous system; Funicello had lost the ability to walk in 2004, the ability to speak in 2009, and by 2012, required round-the-clock care to survive.

Funicello’s family told Extra, that she had been in an MS coma for several years and that she died of complications of MS in a Bakersfield hospital when she was taken off life support.

Ten Things You Should Know about Multiple Sclerosis

multiple-sclerosis1.  Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the central nervous system. It is thought to be an autoimmune disease.

2.  The fatty substance (myelin) that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system is attacked by a patient’s own immune system damaging them and forming scar tissue (sclerosis). This can happen in multiple locations in the brain or along the spinal cord, hence the name multiple sclerosis.

3.  Most people experience their first symptoms of MS between the ages of 20 and 40.

4.  No one knows exactly how many people have MS. Experts think there are currently 250,000 to 350,000 people in the United States diagnosed with MS. This estimate suggests that approximately 200 new cases are diagnosed every week

5. The symptoms of MS usually begin over one to several days, but in some forms, they may develop more slowly. They may be mild or severe and may go away quickly or last for months. Sometimes the initial symptoms of MS are overlooked because they disappear in a day or so and normal function returns.

6. A diagnosis of MS is often delayed because MS shares symptoms with other neurological conditions and diseases.

7. The first symptoms of MS often include:

  • vision problems such as blurred or double vision or optic neuritis, which causes pain in the eye and a rapid loss of vision.Symptoms_of_multiple_sclerosis.svg_

  • weak, stiff muscles, often with painful muscle spasms

  • tingling or numbness in the arms, legs, trunk of the body, or face

  • clumsiness, particularly difficulty staying balanced when walking

  • bladder control problems, either inability to control the bladder or urgency

  • dizziness that doesn’t go away

8.  Approximately half of all people with MS experience cognitive impairments such as difficulties with concentration, attention, memory, and poor judgment, but such symptoms are usually mild and are frequently overlooked.  Depression is another common feature of MS.

9.  There is currently no cure for multiple sclerosis, however there are currently eight disease-modifying medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in relapsing forms of MS. You can learn more specifics about these drugs in an excellent brochure by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society by clicking here.

10. Disease modifying medications have been shown to:

  • Reduce the frequency and severity of clinical attacks (also called relapse or exacerbation)
  • Reduce the accumulation of lesions(damaged or active disease areas) within the brain and spinal cord
  • Appear to slow down the accumulation of disability

For more information about MS, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on Multiple Sclerosis.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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