For decades, Michael J. Fox has been one of the most popular actors in the world. As Marty McFly, he shot to fame and won the hearts of millions.
Recently, the actor has been experiencing health problems. Always forthright, he now discusses the impact of Parkinson’s disease on his acting career.
At the young age of 29, Michael J. Fox received the heartbreaking news that he had Parkinson’s disease. He was at the pinnacle of his acting career and had no plans to stop working.
Instead, he opted to incorporate his condition into his acting. On the show House, which premiered in 2004, he portrayed a doctor struggling with OCD. He has also been in The Good Wife, where he played the part of lawyer Louis Canning, who manipulated jurors by feigning a neurological disorder.
“When I did the spinoff from The Good Wife, which is The Good Fight, I couldn’t remember the lines. I just had this blank, I couldn’t remember the lines,” he recently said on the Working It Out podcast.
His ability to memorize lines quickly has diminished as a result of the memory loss brought on by his sickness, making it difficult for him to continue working as an actor.
He thought back to when memorizing lines had been second nature to the performer. “I knew it, like in an instant, and it continued to be that way for me. I[’d] have 70 pages of dialogue on a [Brian] De Palma movie, and knowing that a hugely expensive Steadicam shot depends on me knowing the lines—not a trickle of sweat on my brow.”
He’s stopped accepting parts that call for a lot of memorized dialogue. “I can’t remember five pages of dialogue. I can’t do it.” he admitted. He seems to be taking it all in stride, realizing there’s not much he can do about it anyway.
A few years back, the actor admitted that he had suddenly begun to have unintentional falls. Although the actor suspected that his Parkinson’s disease played a role, he soon realized that his symptoms were not caused by the disease.
Fox experienced repeated issues with his spinal cord, but his physicians convinced him there was nothing to worry about. However, if he didn’t take action, it would negatively impact his life.
As per the New York Times, he said: “I was told it was benign but if it stayed static I would have diminished feeling in my legs and difficulty moving. Then all of a sudden I started falling – a lot. It was getting ridiculous. I was trying to parse what was Parkinson’s and what was the spinal thing. But it came to the point where it was probably necessary to have surgery.”
A few years back, Fox had surgery on his spinal cord and immediately began rigorous physical therapy.
“I did it all,” he said, “and eventually people asked me to do some acting. Last August I was supposed to go to work. I woke up, walked into the kitchen to get breakfast, misstepped and I went down. I fractured the hell out of my arm. I ended up getting 19 pins and a plate. It was such a blow.”
When asked how he got past that, he answered, “I don’t talk about things being ‘for a reason.’”
“I do think the more unexpected something is, the more there is to learn from it. In my case, what was it that made me skip down the hallway to the kitchen thinking I was fine when I’d been in a wheelchair six months earlier? It’s because I had certain optimistic expectations of myself, and I’d had results to bear out those expectations, but I’d had failures too. And I hadn’t given the failures equal weight.”
Since his diagnosis, he has been putting pen to paper frequently. No Time Like the Future was his fourth autobiography. Actor’s first words in writing were, “My guitar playing is no good. My sketching is no good anymore, my dancing never was good and acting is getting tougher to do. So it’s down to writing. Luckily, I really enjoy it.”
The actor has always remained positive despite his illness. In an effort to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease, he established the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which has so far raised over $1 billion.
The actor has repeatedly talked about his optimism, saying, he told AARP, “If you can find something to be grateful for, then optimism is sustainable. At 60, I just feel like, in spite of this thing I carry every day, I love my life, I love my wife, I love my kids … Parkinson’s is just this thing that’s attached to my life. It isn’t the driver … I’m really lucky, and I try to spread that luck around.”
The actor has recently been in the news once again due to a reunion with his co-star Christopher Lloyd from the Back to the Future film series. The two were on a panel together and discussed how far along in production Back to the Future already was when Fox was cast in the role of Marty McFly.
“The announcement — at one o’ clock in the morning after we were shooting for six weeks — was that the actor playing Marty would no longer be playing Marty, and that tomorrow, we would start shooting with Michael,” Lloyd recalled, according to SyFy.
“I felt that I barely made it through the [first] six weeks and now I was gonna have to do it again?!”
Fox’s mom was worried about his dedication to Family Ties, but he ultimately decided to take the part.
“The chemistry was there from the first scene we had, it was alive, and it remained that way for three movies,” Lloyd said. “It hasn’t gone away, by the way.”
Fox briefly discussed his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis on the NYCC panel.
“You guys have given me my whole life,” he said.
The actor was first diagnosed in 1991, but he didn’t tell anyone about it until 1998. In 2000, he established the Michael J. Fox Foundation to fund research towards a treatment for ALS. The Parkinson’s Condition Foundation raises more money than any other organization in the world for research into the disease.
“The best thing thing that happened in my life was this thing. Parkinson’s is a gift. I’ve said to people it’s a gift and they say, ‘You’re nuts.’ I say, ‘Yeah, but it’s the gift that keeps on taking.’ But it’s a gift and I wouldn’t change it for anything … It’s not about what I have, it’s about what I’ve been given.”
The actor, who has Parkinson’s disease, was recently observed limping on stage during his performance at New York Comic Con. Supporters in the audience clapped as the actor, shaking from the tremors, made his way onto the stage.
The actor has a thick skin, but there are moments when he just can’t let criticism slip. Though he rarely gets them, troll attacks do happen on occasion. He related a time when he was the recipient of an online insult and, rather than letting it go, he responded in kind.
He asked his son, Sam, who was 33 at the time, for advice. In this particular situation, his son told him to “Do SMH.” His son told him to believe him when he questioned what “SMH” stood for. The veteran performer did so, and the troll’s response made him laugh out loud.
The troll’s opinion flipped after reading those three letters. According to Fox, the troll responded with “He answers me back ‘That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever read in my life. You’re the king of the internet. I apologize for anything I said to you,’ blah blah blah.”
He asked him son what he had his father write that turned the troll into a fan so quickly, he elaborated on what the acronym meant; ‘shaking my head.’
We may think of Michael J. Fox as an optimist with a big heart, but even he can’t take being insulted forever. I’m glad he has kids who can keep him on his toes when it comes to making a return.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Michael J. Fox is a true inspiration. We hope his fight against PD goes well, and we applaud his efforts to increase public understanding of the condition.
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