Everybody loves Michael J. Fox. From his iconic performance as Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy to his incredible work raising money for Parkinson’s research, he’s one of the most beloved and admired stars in the world.
But while the actor, now 61, has often projected optimism about his Parkinson’s diagnosis, he’s also honest about the toll it has taken on his health and wellbeing.
In a new interview, Fox got honest about his mortality, saying that living with Parkinson’s was “gettin’ tougher” and said he doesn’t expect to live to 80.
“I’m not gonna be 80”
Speaking with CBS Sunday Morning anchor Jane Pauley, Fox said that while he’s made the most of his life despite the diagnosis, he can now feel Parkinson’s “banging on the door.”
“I’m not gonna lie. It’s gettin’ hard, it’s gettin’ harder. It’s gettin’ tougher,” the retired actor said. “Every day it’s tougher. But, but, that’s, that’s the way it is. I mean, you know, who do I see about that?”
He said that he recently had spinal surgery after a tumor was found on his spine. While it was benign, it affected his ability to walk, and was injured from falling: “[I] broke this arm, and I broke this arm, I broke this elbow. I broke my face. I broke my hand,” Fox told Pauley.
The Back to the Future star explained that falling is a “big killer” for people with Parkinson’s, along with aspirating food and getting pneumonia.
“You don’t die from Parkinson’s. You die with Parkinson’s,” Fox said. “I’ve been thinking about the mortality of it. … I’m not gonna be 80. I’m not gonna be 80.”
He expressed similar thoughts last year in an interview with People Magazine: “It got worse… I’m 61 years old, and I’m feeling it a little bit more.”
However, he continued to express optimism: “It’s been a struggle, but I’m happy,” he told People. “I say that because I hope on some level people can find happiness in spite of what they’re going through.”
Michael J. Fox Foundation
While Fox is realistic about his mortality, he has certainly been making the most of whatever time he has, and has dedicated his life to finding a cure to this incurable disease.
He established the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in 2000, which funds research to find better treatments and a cure for Parkinson’s. The foundation is the largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson’s disease research and has raised over $1 billion for research projects.
Just recently, the foundation made a huge research breakthrough after discovering a highly accurate biomarker test for Parkinson’s disease.
“The test is capable of objectively and reliably detecting the disease at the molecular level — even before the onset of symptoms,” the foundation said, expecting it will “transform every aspect of drug development and ultimately clinical care.”
Parkinson’s diagnosis and retirement from acting
Michael J. Fox was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991, and was given a stark prognosis.
“It was scary,” Fox recalled on The Late Show With David Letterman in 2015. “I was 29 years old and so it was the last thing I expected to hear. I thought I’d hurt my shoulder doing some stunt because I had a twitch in my pinkie. And the doctor said ‘You have Parkinson’s disease.’ He said, ‘The good news is that you have 10 years of work left.’”
Fox publicly announced his condition years later in 1998. He has since opened up about his struggles to come to terms with the disease, including struggles with depression and heavy alcohol consumption.
But he says his wife helped him through all the darkest hours. “We didn’t know what to expect,” Fox told Today. “One of the things I’ll always love Tracy for is that at that moment, she didn’t blink.”
Fox kept the diagnosis secret for several years while continuing to act: he starred in the sitcom Spin City, playing the lead role of Mike Flaherty, the Deputy Mayor of New York. He won an Emmy Award and three Golden Globe Awards for his performance.
But due to his health, he retired from the show during its fourth season.
He continued acting through recurring roles in shows like Scrubs and The Good Wife, and did voiceover roles in projects like the Stuart Little films and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. In 2012, he had his own TV show once again, The Michael J. Fox Show, although it was canceled after just one season.
But in 2020, citing further declines in health, Fox said he would likely be retiring again from acting.
“There is a time for everything, and my time of putting in a twelve-hour workday, and memorizing seven pages of dialogue, is best behind me,” Fox wrote in his recent book No Time Like the Future.
A new documentary about Michael J. Fox, titled Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, premieres on Apple TV+ on May 12.
We’re wishing Michael J. Fox as he continues to battle Parkinson’s. Stay strong and stay positive, Michael! Thank you for all the important work you are doing.
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