After living with Parkinson’s for 30 years, the actor still counts himself a lucky man. He reflects on what his diagnosis has taught him about hope, a
After living with Parkinson’s for 30 years, the actor still counts himself a lucky man. He reflects on what his diagnosis has taught him about hope, acting, family and medical breakthroughs
The last time I spoke to Michael J Fox, in 2013, in his office in New York, he was 90% optimistic and 10% pragmatic. The former I expected; the latter was a shock. Ever since 1998, when Fox went public with his diagnosis of early-onset Parkinson’s disease, he has made optimism his defining public characteristic, because of, rather than despite, his illness. He called his 2002 memoir Lucky Man, and he told interviewers that Parkinson’s is a gift, “albeit one that keeps on taking”.
During our interview, surrounded by the memorabilia (guitars, Golden Globes) he has accrued over the course of his career, he talked about how it had all been for the best. Parkinson’s, he said, had made him quit drinking, which in turn had probably saved his marriage. Being diagnosed at the heartbreakingly young age of 29 had also knocked the ego out of his career ambitions, so he could do smaller things he was proud of – Stuart Little, the TV sitcom Spin City – as opposed to the big 90s comedies, such as Doc Hollywood, that were too often a waste of his talents. To be honest, I didn’t entirely buy his tidy silver linings, but who was I to cast doubt on whatever perspective Fox had developed to make a monstrously unjust situation more bearable? So the sudden dose of pragmatism astonished me. Finding a cure for Parkinson’s, he said, “is not something that I view will happen in my lifetime”. Previously, he had talked about finding “a cure within a decade”. No more. “That’s just the way it goes,” he said quietly. It was like a dark cloud had partly obscured the sun.