In 1991, Michael J. Fox’s life was changed forever. Just months after the release of the third movie in the hugely successful Back to the Future trilogy, a neurologist the actor had visited after experiencing muscle pain diagnosed Parkinson’s. Fox was 30 at the time and at the peak of his career. Since then, he has lived a more or less normal life, with periods of greater difficulty than others and only acting in a part-time capacity before deciding to definitively retire in 2020. In an interview with the US media outlet People, Fox said the past year has been one of the most difficult of all.
In his recent book, his fourth publication, titled No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality, Fox recounts that 2018 was the beginning of the most challenging stage of his life. He underwent spinal cord surgery to remove a tumor and shortly after that he fractured his left arm. However, as he told People, the past year has been more difficult still. His illness deteriorated and with it came new obstacles for the actor and Parkinson’s activist. “I broke my cheek, then my hand, then my shoulder, had a replacement shoulder put in and broke my [right] arm, then I broke my elbow. I’m 61 years old, and I’m feeling it a little bit more.”
Furthermore, in September, Fox’s mother died at 92. “It’s been a struggle, but I’m happy,” he said during the interview. “I say that because I hope on some level people can find happiness in spite of what they’re going through”
Despite Parkinson’s affecting Fox’s movement, those closest to him deny that the disease is advancing more rapidly, according to People. An infection picked up after surgery on his broken hand left the limb unusable and provoked balance issues and more and more falls, which took its toll on his emotional state. “I was never really a cranky guy, but I got very cranky and short with people,” he said. “I try to nip it in the bud. I always think of these aides who work with me. And I often say to them, ‘Whatever I say, just imagine I said “please” at the beginning and “thank you” at the end.’”
Fox also recounts the support he has received from his wife of 34 years, Tracy Pollan, and from his four children, aged between 21 and 33. “My youngest [children] never knew me without Parkinson’s. They never knew anything else.”
Little by little, Fox is recovering from his recent injuries, which has given him an emotional boost: “My arm is feeling good. Life is interesting. It deals you these things. The whole mission is: Don’t fall down. So whatever works to not fall down, whether it’s a walker or a wheelchair, a cane, a guy with a belt around my waist holding onto it - I use all those tools.” A few weeks ago, Fox was reunited with his Back to the Future co-star Christopher Lloyd at a Comic Con event in New York. “Parkinson’s is the gift that keeps on taking. But it’s a gift, and I wouldn’t change it for anything,” Fox said. “It’s not about what I have, it’s about what I’ve been given.”
In 2000, nine years after his diagnosis, the actor created the Michael J. Fox Foundation to research Parkinson’s and try to find a cure for the disease, while also helping people who suffer from it like him. So far, the initiative has raised $1 billion.
At the start of 2020, Fox announced his retirement from acting due to complications derived from his illness. “There is a time for everything, and my time of putting in a 12-hour workday, and memorizing seven pages of dialogue, is best behind me” he said, having briefly retired after the initial diagnosis.