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Michael J. Fox on Parkinson’s and how he found it "Optimism is sustainable"

Michael J. Fox first came to New York City to meet Jane Pauley on “The Today Show.” “Me and my friend who came with me to New York, they turned up on Fifth, and we were having breakfast. And it was $20. I lost my s***. I went, ‘Twenty dollars?!?'”


Michael J. Fox appears on “Today” to promote “Family Ties.” He found the price of breakfast in Manhattan.


At the time Fox was promoting a new show, “Family Ties,” and I introduced a new name to Hollywood: Michael J. Fox, on the brink of a very bright future “Family Ties” debuted 40 years ago, and after taping the first show with a live audience, he knew it was coming.

He knew he’d found something — and the moment he found it: “I just did this ad-lib thing where I was supposed to say, ‘Hello, this is Alex Keaton,’ and I just went, ‘Hello, this is Alex P. Keaton.’ And that became a big part of the character.”

“Is P funny?” Paulie asked.

“P is funny,” Fox said. “P Percussive. Percussive P!”

Parkinson’s? Not funny: an incurable degenerative disease. But over the years, Fox has been laughing by describing Parkinson’s as a gift: “It’s the gift that keeps on receiving.”

“Every time I see you, I see it’s a little bit more taken,” Pauly says.

“It’s been 30+ years; many of us haven’t had the disease for 30 years,” he said. “It’s bad to have Parkinson’s.”


In 2023 Jane Pauly and Michael J. Fox.

CBS News

As millions know all too well. “For some families, for some people, it’s a nightmare. It’s a living hell,” he said. “They have to deal with realities that are beyond most people’s understanding.”

Fox first says he has the advantage: “My life is set up so I wish I could pack Parkinson’s with me.”

“But at some point, Parkinson’s will call for you, won’t it?” Paulie asked.

“Yeah, it’s, banging on the door. Yeah, I mean, I’m not gonna lie. It’s getting harder, it’s getting harder. It’s getting harder. Every day it’s harder. But, but that’s it, that’s what I mean, you know, Who do I see about it?”

Even talking comes at a price, as he showed us on “Sunday Morning” five years ago.

“I can settle myself, but I won’t be as animated,” he said. Still silent. “I can’t talk, (because) I start moving.”

From 2017: Michael J. Against Parkinson’s. Fox’s fight

Michael J. Fox’s fight against Parkinson’s


Now more than tremors and slurred speech, muscle stiffness, tiresome twitching and twisting; It fell and broke bones. “I had spinal surgery. I had a tumor on my spine. And it was benign, but it was affecting my walking,” he said. “And then stuff started breaking. Broke this arm, and I broke this hand, I broke this elbow. I broke my face. I broke my hand.”

“Reading on things?”

“Which is a big killer with Parkinson’s. It’s falling and aspiration of food and getting pneumonia. All these subtle ways that get you. You don’t die from Parkinson’s; you die with Parkinson’s. I’m not going to be 80. I’m Age will not be 80.”

He thinks about death, but at 61 he relishes his past. “I had to go through our den, the TV room. And I look up and ‘Back to the Future’ was on, it had just started. And I haven’t seen it since 1987. I haven’t seen it.”

Tracy Pollan, his wife of 35 years, was waiting for him, he recalls. “I sat on the couch. Like, four or five minutes later, Tracy goes, ‘What are you doing? Where are you?’ And I said, ‘Back to the Future’ is on. He said, ‘You watch “Back to the Future?” And I said, ‘Yeah, you know, I’m really good at it!’

Johnny B. Good – Back to the Future (9/10) Movie Clip (1985) HD by Movieclips on YouTube

In the summer of 1985, Michael J. Fox was the hottest name in Hollywood, with not only the #1 movie (“Back to the Future”), but also a #2 (“Teen Wolf”) and a top TV show. Capture 20-30% of the audience – unimaginable today. “Thursday night, walking down a hotel hallway and in every room I could hear ‘Family Ties’ and it was, it was huge,” Fox said.

“How did you manage that reputation?”

“I pig out on it,” he replied. “I like it.”

In recognition of his groundbreaking work, old friend Woody Harrelson presented Fox with an honorary Oscar last year. In his acceptance speech, Fox admitted to Harrelson, “We did some damage.”

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 13th Governors Awards

Michael J. Fox and his wife, Tracy Pollan, with their four children: Sam, Esme, Aquinna and Schuyler, attend the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 13th Governors Awards on November 19, 2022 in Los Angeles.

Emma McIntyre/WireImage via Getty Images

“Did you do any damage?” asked Paulie.

“Yes, very likely,” Fox replied. “I mean, there’s so many ways you could have, that I could have hurt myself. I could have hit my head. I could have drank too much at a certain developmental stage. I think maybe I was exposed to some kind of chemical. . What we say is that genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.”

Michael J. The Fox Foundation has raised $1.5 billion for research, and this month announced a breakthrough: a biomarker for Parkinson’s that could mean faster diagnosis and treatment.

“It changes everything,” Fox said. “I know where we are now, in five years they’ll be able to tell if they have it, be able to tell if they’ll get it, we’ll know how to treat it.”


The “Family Ties” and “Back to the Future” actor has become just as famous for his public battle with Parkinson’s disease.

CBS News

Her family (“The child I love most is the one I’m with when I’m with”) are all featured in a new documentary about Fox, her life, her career and, of course, Parkinson’s, called “Steel” (debuting on Apple TV+ May 12 ).

“Still mean, Evoke?” asked Paulie.

“I can never be still, until I can be still,” he replied.

“Still another meaning. Still here. Still committed.”

“And I’ll take them all!”

And in “Still” we see it all, Fox loses his legs, but not his dignity or his sense of humor. When he falls into the street while greeting a passerby, he delivers the punchline: “You knocked me off my feet.”

“Got a smile!” Pauly said.

“Something for a laugh!” he replied.

Michael J. Fox is a serious man: funny, but wise.

“There’s never been a time in your life that wasn’t amazing,” Pauly said.

“Very good life.”

“And it’s perverse to say, but a kind of ‘charmed’ life.”

“That’s the point; that’s the joke,” Fox said. “I understand how hard it is for people, and I recognize how hard it is for me. But I have a certain skill that allows me to deal with these things. And I understand, thankfully, that optimism is sustainable. And if You can find something to be grateful for, then you can find something to look forward to, and you keep going.”

Click the video player below to watch the trailer for “Still”:

Steele: A Michael J. Fox Movie — Official Trailer | Apple TV+ by Apple TV on YouTube

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Story created by Mary Raffaele. Editor: Lauren Barnello.

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