Michael J. Fox Has Perspective
The actor reflects on nearly three decades with Parkinson's.
Michael J. Fox has a new book coming out next week and this has sparked a litany of interviews and features with the popular actor and Parkinson’s activist. The New York Times‘ treatment, “When It Comes to Living With Uncertainty, Michael J. Fox Is a Pro,” is especially powerful. The introduction:
Two years ago, Michael J. Fox had surgery to remove a benign tumor on his spinal cord. The actor and activist, who had been living with Parkinson’s disease for nearly three decades, had to learn to walk all over again.
Four months later, he fell in the kitchen of his Upper East Side home and fractured his arm so badly that it had to be stabilized with 19 pins and a plate. Mired in grueling, back-to-back recoveries, he started to wonder if he had oversold the idea of hope in his first three memoirs, “Lucky Man,” “Always Looking Up” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future.”
“I had this kind of crisis of conscience,” Fox said during a video interview last month from his Manhattan office, where pictures of Tracy Pollan, his wife of 31 years, and his dog, Gus, hung behind him. “I thought, what have I been telling people? I tell people it’s all going to be OK — and it might suck!”
His solution was to channel that honesty into a fourth memoir, “No Time Like the Future,” which Flatiron is publishing on Nov. 17. For an example of his new outlook, consider his perspective on traveling by wheelchair.
“It can be a frustrating and isolating experience, allowing someone else to determine the direction I’m going and the rate of speed I can travel. The pusher is in charge,” Fox writes. “From the point of view of the occupant of the chair, it’s a world of asses and elbows. No one can hear me. To compensate, I raise my voice and suddenly feel like Joan Crawford in ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,’ barking out orders.”
He continues: “Generally the person in control is a stranger, an airport or hotel employee. I’m sure that if we could look each other in the eye, we’d recognize our mutual humanity. But often in the wheelchair, I’m luggage. I’m not expected to say much. Just sit still.” Later, he adds, “No one listens to luggage.”
That he manages that level of optimism and self-reflection despite being dealt a rather bad hand is remarkable, indeed.
While he’s a few years older than me, he came to fame playing Alex P. Keaton on “Family Ties,” who graduated high school the same year I did. I was a big fan of that show and his early movie career, especially the “Back to the Future” movies, “The Secret of My Success,” and “Doc Hollywood.”
He was in the third season of his second star run in a television sitcom, “Spin City,” when he announced his Parkinson’s diagnosis. He’d actually been living with the disease for years, keeping the matter private, until the symptoms made it impossible to hide. He retired from the show the next year.
While he’s made a lot of cameo appearances since, he went from being a superstar to a sentimental favorite. And has managed to live enough of a life with a degenerative disease to fill four memoirs.
It speaks volumes to his fortitude and resiliency. And to what must be an incredibly strong marriage, indeed.