Annette Funicello, an icon to legions of baby boomers, first as a breakout star on “The Mickey Mouse Club” in the 1950s and then as a wholesome pinup opposite Frankie Avalon in a series of teen movies, died Monday at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.
The actress and singer was discovered by Walt Disney, she recalls during an interview:
“Mr. Disney said to me one day, ‘Annette, I have a favor to ask of you. I know all the girls are wearing bikinis, but you have an image to uphold. I would appreciate it if you would wear a one-piece suit.’ I did, and I never regretted it.”
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Funicello who was 70 years old at the time of her death, was married to her first husband, Jack Gilardi, from 1965 until 1981. They had three children: Gina (b. 1966), Jack, Jr. (b. 1970), and Jason (b. 1974). In 1986, she married California harness racing horse breeder/trainer Glen Holt.The couple were frequently seen at Los Alamitos Race Course and at Fairplex in Pomona in the 1980s and 1990s attending harness horse races.
82-year-old Glen Holt (b. December 19, 1930) is a former law enforcement officer and race horse trainer and breeder. It was through their mutual interest in horses and horse racing that he first met his wife of over 25 years, beautiful Annette. After her film career ended, she devoted herself to her family. Her children sometimes appeared on the TV commercials she made for peanut butter. It is possible that Mr. Holt has two sons from a previous relationship Michael Holt and D. Holt
In March 2011, her Encino, California home caught fire. She suffered smoke inhalation, but was otherwise unharmed. After the fire, Funicello and Holt then began living full time at the modest ranch that they purchased decades earlier, located just south of Shafter, California (north of Bakersfield). That remained her primary residence until her death. Holt opened up to a Canadian film crew late last year on the toll multiple sclerosis had taken on his wife.
“When she got diagnosed … I told her, ‘I will take care of you and I`ll do everything I can,’”
And that was exactly what he did! Glen immediately began educating himself on the disorder and engaging in ongoing dialogue with both medical professionals and MS patients from around the globe. What he learned ultimately lead he and Annette to establish The Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases in 1993. It was created to provide a way to personally have a hand in directing funds to promising clinical research studies.
He always believed there was improvement in Annette even when doctors didn’t:
“Glen perceives there are changes day to day. I mean, I cannot see them to be honest , but remember she has had this damage for a long, long time and it has done terrible things to her nervous system and that damage cannot be undone,” said Dr. Salberg.
His gut took him to go public with their story and talk about further about MS.
And now that sadly Annette, a true Hollywood warriors has lost her battle to multiple sclerosis an inspired Glen says:
“We`re going to use Annie`s name, yes. And it`s not going to be used in vain, we`re going to do something with it,” insists Glen.
“I want to touch their hearts so they will go out there and help us raise some money,”
“I going to continue to fulfill her wish that to help find a cause and a cure.`
Today, Glen leaded the Annette Funicello Research Fund as Chairman of the Advisory Board. This is an incredible heartfelt story and we can certainly learn one or two things from Glen’s incredible faith and strong character! Our thoughts are with him and the res of Annette’s family. May she rest in peace.