By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Annette Funicello died Monday. If you’re younger than 50 or so, that name probably doesn’t mean anything to you.

But to me, it does.

If you were a teenage boy in the 1960s, when the statuesque Annette was making the “beach party” movies clad mostly in a form-fitting bathing suit, she was a figure of some importance.

Listen to Jon’s commentary:

But while attractive women are a dime a dozen in Hollywood, Annette Funicello had something a bit different going for her. She was always portrayed as the wholesome “girl next door” because she genuinely was.

“At the height of her stardom,” reports the New York Times in her obituary, “she said her ambition was to quit show business and have nine children,” and she meant it, giving up acting after marrying at 22 in part because she refused to take on roles that cast her in even a modestly unsavory light.

She maintained a healthy sense of humor about her “beach party” and Mousketeer days, but took her public profile seriously when she was diagnosed with the illness that killed her, becoming an eloquent public advocate for research into and treatment of neurological disease.

In a business that leers at youth and beauty and specializes in exploiting it, Annette Funicello did her time on her own terms and left it to live her life the way she wanted to. She was 70 years old at her death, and in her final years, multiple sclerosis had robbed her of her ability to walk or speak.

But nothing could take away her dignity. So if you’ve got an impressionable young girl in your house, maybe this weekend would be a good time to rent an old beach party movie and share the story of a class act in a pop culture that generates precious few of them.

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.


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