Sense of loss in Utica after death of Annette Funicello

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Annette Funicello died on Monday from complications due to multiple sclerosis at a hospital in Bakersfield, California, a long way from where she was born in Utica.

Funicello was diagnosed with M.S. in 1987, but didn't announce it publicly until 1992.

She and her family lived at 813 Bleecker Street until she was four years old when they moved out to Hollywood.

Bob Piperata is Chairman of the Board at the Italian Heritage Club of the Mohawk Valley in Utica. He says even though Annette Funicello only lived in Utica for the first four years of her life, she's always has been a big deal here. He said, "A sense of loss, a daughter who was from Utica, one of our own, I am sure people are going to be pretty sad when they hear the news."

Piperata says the first thing he thinks about when talking about Funicello is The Mickey Mouse Club. He said, "Your parents told you she's from Utica and you say, 'wow, that's great, isn't it?' and all friends and stuff, you when you saw The Mickey Mouse Club, you would say Annette's on, she's from Utica."

The Oneida County Historical Society has an extensive amount of memorabilia from Funicello's long career.

Executive Director Brian Howard says Funicello is an icon. He said, "Her roots are right her, her family had been in the area for generations, several of her relatives are still here, and this areas should be proud to have that connection to someone who did bring entertainment literally to millions of people throughout her life."

Some of Annette's aunts, uncles and cousins still live in Utica and the surrounding area.

One aunt, Nancy Funicello of Utica told NEWSChannel 2 on Monday afternoon that Annette was such a nice little girl when she was her in Utica. She said, as an adult, Annette became a very warm hearted and good person.

Howard says Funicello was popular, not just as a child in The Mickey Mouse Club, but throughout her entire life. She said, "She left a huge mark on the American entertainment industry. When you think about pioneering television programs, The Mickey Mouse Club was something generations grew up with and Annette Funicello was really one of the most memorable people to be involved with that production. She really was a pioneer."

Piperata says it has been tough seeing Funicello battle M.S. over the years, but he believes she has handled it as well as anyone could. He said, "Seeing her interviews from over the years, she was upbeat even though she had this burden. She seemed upbeat and always cheerful as could be and you have to admire that too, in the face of difficulties."

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