|Famous For: Back to the Future, Family Ties and Spin City||Currently Known For: Advocating a Cure for Parkinson’s Disease through the Michael J. Fox Foundation|
Currently Known For Advocating a Cure for Parkinson’s Disease through the Michael J. Fox Foundation
“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it cannot be taken away unless it is surrendered.” One of Hollywood’s favorite Canadians, Michael J. Fox was selling his furniture to buy food and avoiding phone calls from his parents as they begged him to return home when he finally caught a huge break and was cast as Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties. Proving his instincts were spot on, Fox found mainstream success and took home a Golden Globe Award and three Emmy Awards for his performance before he took his talents to the silver screen where he wowed audiences as the lovable Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy. Adding in another award-winning sitcom in the late 1990s as well as more recent credits in series like The Good Wife, Boston Legal and Curb Your Enthusiasm, the 56-year-old Fox is living proof that positivity is powerful especially after his nearly 30-year battle with Parkinson’s disease and his efforts to find a cure!
Born on June 9, 1961 in Edmonton, Alberta, Michael Andrew Fox spent the first decade of his life moving around Canada with his parents as they followed his father’s career as a police officer and Canadian Forces member while his mother worked as a payroll clerk and an aspiring actress. In 1971, the family settled down in Vancouver as Fox developed an interest in theater at Burnaby Central Secondary School. When he was 15 years old, he starred in the Canadian series Leo and Me, which is exactly what persuaded his father to drive him over 1,200 miles from Vancouver to Los Angeles to try his hand at acting.
Spending the first few years in Hollywood struggling to pay the bills, Fox was close to throwing in the towel when he finally caught a huge break in 1982 and was cast as the money-loving Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties. Although his on-screen parents were meant to be the focal point of the show, Fox was such a huge hit that he became the star of the series over the next seven seasons as he took home three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award for his performance. “I went from girls not giving me the time of day to reading it off their bedside digital clocks,” Fox said of his overnight stardom. “It was pretty cool… All of a sudden, I was getting into all these clubs and the VIP room, which was a really ridiculous thing because if you’re in the VIP room, you’re not in the club! You’re in a little room upstairs. It’s like, ‘Wow, here I am in the VIP room. That’s Dustin Hoffman. I’m not going home with him!’”
With the success of Family Ties, Fox had little trouble finding work on the silver screen and, in 1985, took Eric Stoltz’s place as Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy. The first film became an international phenomenon and was ranked as the highest grossing film of the year as Fox went on to star in flicks like Teen Wolf, Light of Day, The Secret of My Success, Big City and Casualties of War. Then, in 1991, Fox’s health took a tragic turn when the young heartthrob noticed that his pinky finger wouldn’t stop twitching as he filmed Doc Hollywood. Wrapping up the film and later seeing a specialist, Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“In fact, that is one of the few times in my life I felt like saying, ‘Do you know who I am? This is ridiculous. You can’t tell me that!’” Fox recalled of the moment his doctor predicted that he had another decade to work. “This was a case when I just thought, this is preposterous that this is happening to me…. The doctor gave me a little bit of hope, but it wasn’t enough for me. I felt very shocked by it.” Fox was so shocked by his diagnosis that he kept it a secret for the next seven years as he and his wife, actress Tracy Pollan, planned for what the future might hold. “I took seven years between when I was diagnosed and when I went public with it,” Fox said. “So, I took a long, selfish period of time when I just dealt with how it affected me and was concerned with me.”
Hiding his diagnosis while continuing to work, Fox starred on the ABC sitcom Spin City from 1996 to 2000 and took home five Emmy Awards, four Golden Globes and two Screen Actors Guild Awards during the show’s four-season run. In 1998, he finally came forward about his diagnosis and turned heads as he encouraged Congress to increase funding for medical research of Parkinson’s. Refusing to stop there, he established the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which currently has over $750 million in private donations, to advance the path to cure, slow or reverse the disease. But, always the optimist as he shares in books like Lucky Man: A Memoir, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned, Fox has embraced his diagnosis and what it’s meant for his life.
“I mean, as happy-go-lucky as I seem to be and as at ease with this as I seem to be, I mean, it sucks. I hate it!” he says. “And I wish I wasn’t in this situation, but it’s been one of the great gifts of my life that I’ve been in the position to take my view of the suckitude of it and merge it with other people’s view of the suckitude of it and try to find an answer.”
Still trying to find that answer today, Fox refuses to let anything or anyone stand in his way as he continues to act with credits in Stuart Little, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Michael J. Fox Show and The Good Wife, the latter of which earned him three Emmy Award nominations. And, at 56 years old, he’s managed to act far longer than his doctors predicted and is hopeful for what lies ahead from finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease to spending time with his wife and their four children. “I look forward to grandkids,” he says, “and I look forward to weddings and I look forward to books.” And we look forward to more of the Michael J. Fox we know and love!