Annette Funicello died in 2013 from complications from Multiple Sclerosis, but anyone checking out Facebook in the past few days may have been fooled into thinking the Mickey Mouse Club star had actually passed away this week.
A viral death hoax spread, claiming the 70-year-old actress had died after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. It spread rapidly both on Twitter and Facebook, with many sharing the account.
And now, Annette Funicello! RIP, ANNETTE! https://t.co/bmZ1JnjnpE
— Jill Faucher-Ross (@LovelyNJlady) January 15, 2016
It’s not hard to see why many people were fooled by the Annette Funicello death hoax. The news originally came from a site called Health Cure Portal, and had the appearance of a real news story. Anyone who may not have followed the news closely back in 2013 could easily believe that she passed away this year.
The report claimed that family members decided to take Funicello off life support after she spent years in a coma with MS complications.
“She’s on her toes dancing in heaven. No more multiple sclerosis Drug,” the report quoted Gina Gilardi, Funicello’s daughter, in an interview with Extra. “My brothers and I were there, holding her sweet hands when she left us.”
This may not have been hard to believe. Funicello has suffered from MS for many years, and had been open about her fight with the ailment. She was understandably much quieter in the final years of her life, which could lead some to forget that she actually died three years ago.
— snopes.com (@snopes) January 16, 2016
At the time, her death also called attention to MS and the research that has gone into treating and one day curing the disease. Experts noted how she was diagnosed at a time when research and treatments were in their earlier stages..
“She was diagnosed at a time when we didn’t have any therapies available,” Dr. Clyde Markowitz director of the MS Center at the University of Pennsylvania, told Today. “We see much less of that guaranteed progressive phase now.”
The report added that more recent treatments could have given Funicello a higher quality of life, and a longer outlook.
“Heart wrenching videos of Funicello in her later years show a woman trapped within an immovable body. It’s quite possible that Funicello remained cognitively intact even as her body was failing her,” says Dr. Rock Heyman, director of the Pittsburgh Institute for MS care and research at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “I have seen patients who are unable to move their arms or legs that are still intellectually active.”
The Annette Funicello death story contained many aspects from her actual obituary, including her 1955 casting on a new television program from Walt Disney. At the time, Walt Disney himself happened to visit the Burbank Starlite Bowl, where a dance school was performing a recital of Swan Lake, and Annette Funicello stood out.
She expanded her career beyond Disney in 1963, when B-movie producer Samuel Z. Arkoff cast her opposite Frankie Avalon in Beach Party. From there she crafted a career as America’s most beloved beach blanket sweetheart, including a long series of sequels.
This is far from the only celebrity death hoax to go viral in recent months. The Internet has invented countless other stories, including death hoaxes about everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Macaulay Culkin (the Home Alone star has been honored with multiple hoaxes, actually).
While the Annette Funicello death hoax may have fooled a lot of people this week, it also spurred some conversations about MS and may have raised more awareness about the disease.
[Photo by Henry Gris/FPG/Getty Images]