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Disney In Depth: Honoring Annette Funicello and 6 Other Disney Figures We Lost in 2013
Brett Nachman   |  

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As 2013 closes, we look back at the talented individuals we lost this year.

The following seven featured individuals contributed to The Walt Disney Company in various capacities, from film and television work (like Annette Funicello), to altering the landscape of Disney history (thanks to you, Diane Disney Miller). We pay our respects and reflect back on these individuals who shaped Disney, many of whom passed away far too young.

Annette Funicello

“Now it’s time to say good-bye to all our company.” Annette Funicello, who became an instant hit on The Mickey Mouse Club, defied the negative child star-becomes-adult stereotype we see all too often today. Not only did she evolve into a lovely and giving woman, but also her natural charisma and extraordinary gift in delighting audiences made her a Disney Legend. She starred in many Disney films, including Babes in Toyland, The Monkey’s Uncle and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. Disney launched her singing and acting career that spanned many decades, and she defined the “beach movies” of the 1960s. In fact, Disney’s 2013 television feature Teen Beach Movie is dedicated in Annette Funicello’s memory. She was ultimately one of the most wonderful figures from The Walt Disney Company, and she will be remembered for her numerous and everlasting contributions. My Geeks of Doom colleague Michael Percoco wrote this tribute after her passing.

Here’s a vintage clip of Annette Funicello singing and dancing at Disneyland.

Paul Walker

The star behind The Fast and the Furious franchise may only have two credits in Disney films, but the latter proved his dramatic chops. Walker starred in the silly 1998 comedy Meet the Deedles, focused on two laid-back brothers who become park rangers at Yellowstone. The film, often forgotten, has its funny moments, but has since been lost in the library of Disney films. Nevertheless, as Walker became a more established presence in Hollywood, he gained better roles and films. Perhaps some of his finest work is in 2006′s Eight Below, a Disney dog-themed drama set in Antarctica. Walker plays a survival expert who leads a team to retrieve his canine friends, stranded in the icy region. The moving movie is one of the company’s greatest efforts of the last decade, in part thanks to Walker’s grounded performance.

Roger Ebert

The critic who helped give new meaning to “thumbs up” also played a pivotal role in Disney. Well, for the syndication arm of Disney’s television division, at the very least. At the Movies, featuring Ebert as one of two leading film critics, aired for more than 20 years. For two decades – plus many years prior to that point – Ebert reviewed at least a few hundred films released from The Walt Disney Company, whether he adored them (like he loved The Hunchback of Notre Dame) or despised them (Meet the Deedles, for one, featured in his book of hated films). I looked back at Ebert’s relationship with Disney after his passing, and it’s such a shame he would not see the miracles the studio has released months after his death. I’m sure he would have loved both Frozen and Saving Mr. Banks.

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel

Peter O’Toole

The Lawrence of Arabia actor may have only had a few entries in Disney’s catalogue of features, but they proved important in his 50-year film career. His first role in a feature was in 1960′s Kidnapped, an adventure-set tale based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel. More than 45 years later, O’Toole voiced food critic Anton Ego in Disney-Pixar’s Ratatouille, a vocal performance that garnered critical acclaim. His sophisticated and considerate flair lent perfectly for the connoisseur character. Here’s a clip from the food favorite film.

Lee Thompson Young

It’s always horrible to hear when someone takes his/her own life, and that would sadly be Young’s fate. The actor, who grew to fame on Disney Channel’s late ’90s/early 2000s series The Famous Jett Jackson, possessed star power from the moment you saw him on-screen. The likeable star, whose character held two lives – one as an ordinary teenager and another as a pop culture icon – would contrast the overblown hysteria that would mark Hannah Montana. Young would later guest star on ABC’s short-lived Flash Forward and have a main role on TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles.

Norman Palmer

The late Disney Legend, a prominent editor within the company, was a nature-lover. True story. Palmer, also referred to as “Stormy,” would place his stamp on the True-Life Adventure films – Academy Award-winning documentaries – during the 1950s and 1960s. Stormy’s assistant at a certain point was the one and only Roy E. Disney! His impactful work on the True-Life Adventure pieces would inspire the development of the Disneynature label.

Diane Disney Miller

If there was ever a “most significant individual” in all of Disney, it would be Walt himself. Of course. After his death in 1966, a few key individuals in his family would form his legacy. Roy O. Disney and Roy E. Disney revived the Walt Disney World project and Walt Disney Feature Animation, respectively. But one of Walt’s daughters would ensure that the man would not become only a corporate icon or legendary figure.

Diane Disney Miller founded The Walt Disney Family in 2009, an endeavor that took years to complete, but would eventually honor the man who shared happiness to the globe. Miller’s alternative purpose would be to debunk any myths about her father, and it was her life mission to preserve this image and dispel accusations. I recently visited the San Francisco museum for the first time – ironically, only weeks before her untimely passing – and I was blown away by how perfectly this encapsulated Walt’s life. This CBS Morning News segment previews the museum, featuring Diane Disney Miller, prior to the attraction’s opening.

What are your fondest memories of these icons? Remember watching Funicello on your black-and-white television or reading Ebert’s reviews of Disney features? Share your thoughts.

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.

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