Annette Funicello Made Me Cry.

Every little girl has an idol.  Some girls have many.

I wanted to be Judy Garland, chasing after John Truitt, riding the trolley, and doing the cakewalk with Tootie.  By extension, I wanted to be Margaret O’Brien, doing the cakewalk with Judy Garland.

I wanted to be Lucille Bremer, forever waiting for the call from Warren Sheffield.

I wanted to be Julie Andrews, pulling whatever she needed out of her carpet bag.

I wanted to be Mary Martin, able to fly and go toe to toe with Cyril Ritchard.

I wanted to be Debbie Reynolds, tapping with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor.

I wanted to be Lesley Ann Warren, falling in love with Prince Charming.  (Yes, I know Julie Andrews did this, too.  I own both versions.  But I grew up with Warren and will always prefer her.)

Probably more than any of them, I wanted to be Annette Funicello, foiling the evil Barnaby to marry Tom Piper.  And singing while walking on her hands.

Once, when I was in third grade, I transcribed the entire script for Babes in Toyland so that I could act out the scenes on my own.  I loved it that much, and I wanted to be Annette in that movie that badly.  I wanted to dance and sing just like her.

My favorite dance from the movie:

Well, I guess I got a little bit of my wish.  I got to be like Annette, a little bit.  Just not in the way I’d hoped.

Annette was diagnosed with MS years before she revealed it to the public, but since revealing it she has become a great inspiration to MS patients of all generations.  Reading her autobiography this week, I found so much inspiration in the sunny outlook she has, even considering the fast-progressing nature of her particular case of MS.  She is dedicated to providing hope for others (and their families).

After she was diagnosed, Annette didn’t just lay down and take it.  She went on her final music tour and did her last feature film, Back to the Beach, during the same year as her diagnosis.  She used her diagnosis as an opportunity to push herself because she knew she wouldn’t have the use of her legs forever.  Today, she is in a wheelchair and has problems with speech and breathing (the photo from above is from several years ago… I cannot bring myself to look at current photos because they terrify me), but she will never look back and feel she didn’t use her abilities to dance and sing while she still could.

This is so important to hear, because since my diagnosis I’ve been kind of shocked by the number of people who’ve asked me questions like “So, when are you going to quit working?” and “Will you be able to handle doing shows, or will you be too tired?”  Apparently I’ve been sick without knowing it for a while, so why would things change now?  Reading about all that Annette accomplished before she finally had to stop working makes me know that I’m in the right when I say that I plan to work and do theatre as long as I possibly can, until my legs, arms, and eyes (and brain) will let me.

Some words from Annette:

“When I wake up in the morning, I like to imagine, ‘This is the day I’m going to hear about an MS cure on the news.’ I know it may be a long way off, but what a glorious morning that will be.”  I want to be this upbeat.  Every day.

“With MS, as with everything else in life, you must find and follow the course that feels right for you.”  For Annette, this included a period when she kept her illness a secret.  I did not choose to do that, and for the past few months I have wondered why so many people choose to, but after reading her book I understand the choice a lot more.

“Just learning that you have MS is such a devastating shock you sometimes think nothing else could shake you like that again.”  Yes.

“When you are young and healthy, it never occurs to you that in a single second your whole life might change.”  No.  It doesn’t.

Reading Annette’s book made me so sad for her.  It’s no more fair for her to have to deal with this than anyone else.  But it also made me feel a little more like there’s someone out there who knows exactly how I feel.

Do you have a childhood idol or a celebrity who inspires you?

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6 Responses to Annette Funicello Made Me Cry.

  1. Em says:

    If you’re interested in reading other books by famous people with chronic illnesses (not just MS), I recommend Michael J. Fox’s Lucky Man and Always Looking Up. Even though he’s talking about Parkinson’s, it’s the same kind of message as you mention above – doing as much as you can for as long as you can, and being optimistic and grateful even when things kind of suck.

    Chronic illness is scary. I’m sad that people ask you when you’re going to stop working – they shouldn’t be concerned with that, and there’s no reason to think that you won’t have to consider that for a good while. I don’t talk to many people about my RA. Very few people at work know, and even when people do know, I don’t think they realize the level of disability that comes with it. No one asks me that same question, but I ask it of myself frequently, and the idea of having to stop working absolutely terrifies me.

    • EGL says:

      I will have to check those out! I love Michael J. Fox.

      You know I am there for you if you need to chat about your RA. I am not in the same boat, but I am in a similar boat in terms of people not really understanding what my illness means and doesn’t mean. I wish, wish, wish this was not a thing we had in common, but at least we can be there for each other!

  2. Custard says:

    You are my idol!

  3. V.E.G. says:

    Mary Martin’s son has died. Elaine Haltek died on the very day he died.

  4. V.E.G. says:

    Rest easy, dear soul.

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