“Mr. Optimist”: Michael J. Fox reflects 30 years after Parkinson’s diagnosis
In 1991, there were few bigger names in show business than Michael J. Fox. Millions around the world knew him for his work in the “Back to the Future” films, and the TV series “Family Ties.” But away from the success and celebrity of Hollywood, he was about the begin the biggest fight of his life.
Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was 29 years old. He was newly married to his wife, actress Tracy Pollan, who he met on the set of “Family Ties,” in the 1980s.
“So very early in the marriage she got this dumped on her. And the moment that I told her I was realizing was the last time we cried about it together. We haven’t cried about Parkinson’s since. We’ve just dealt with it and lived our lives. But we cried about it that first time,” Fox recalled to “CBS Mornings” co-host Nate Burleson.
Fox said the couple didn’t know what Parkinson’s meant and were about to enter uncharted territory.
“We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know what would happen. We didn’t know. You know, no one could say when it would have more effects. More symptoms than what I had, which was a twitch, twitching pinkie,” said Fox. “But they [doctors] just said it was coming.”
Fox didn’t reveal his Parkinson’s diagnosis to the public for another seven years. It is a progressive brain disorder that over time, for many, will slowly strip away a person’s movement and speech and while scientists have made significant strides with research and treatment, there is still no cure.
More than two decades later and after several acting jobs that allowed him to work without hiding his condition, the 60-year-old is now retired from acting.
The award-winning actor is also an accomplished author. He has written four best-selling books — the latest, a memoir, “No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality,” just came out in paperback. He’s also the face of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research.
Fox said he struggles with some of life’s basic day-to-day functions, including going out to dinner with his family, but he is also appreciative of the moments he gets to spend with his loved ones.
“I have a wheelchair that I use every now and then and it still sucks. I have a hard time getting to a restaurant and up the stairs to where my family’s eating perhaps at a dinner. But then I’m there with my son and my three daughters and my wife, and friends of ours. And it’s just like, that’s great,” Fox said.
While he is aware of the hurdles that lie ahead, he’s wise enough to understand what he can control and what he can’t.
“I thought, ‘Who am I to tell people, cheer up? Who am I to tell people it’s gonna be okay? Who am I to tell people ‘Have a positive attitude,” Fox said. “You really got to go to that and check that place and say, ‘Is that just something I say? Or is that something I believe?’ If it’s something I believe, is it something I can live? And if I can live it, is it fair for me to ask others or suggest to others, or prescribe that others look at it the same way?”
Fox said living with Parkinson’s is a “heavy thing” but he remains optimistic.
“And I really felt I just felt so much weight of that public persona being Mr. Optimist. And I still am Mr. Optimist. And I knew and in some small way, I knew in that moment, as dark as it was, that I would get back to that at some point,” he said.
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