Michael J. Fox: ‘I don’t fear death’

Dec 05, 2021
Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox continues to inspire with his positivity in the face of Parkinson's. Source: Getty

If anyone could be forgiven for not always looking on the sunny side of life, it’s Michael J. Fox.

The much-loved Back to the Future star, who turned 60 in June, had to call time on his hugely successful acting career last year as his struggle with Parkinson’s turned a new page; robbing him of coherent speech.

But Fox, who was diagnosed with the cruel motor neuron disease in 1991, has given an extensive interview to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) this week that rings out with his trademark wit, good humour and upbeat outlook.

“If you don’t think you have anything to be grateful for, keep looking,” Fox told the website.

“Because you don’t just receive optimism. You can’t wait for things to be great and then be grateful for that. You’ve got to behave in a way that promotes that.”

When the actor was first diagnosed, his doctor told him that he only had ten years left to work, but Fox continued to defy all the odds, going on for another 30 years to appear in hit primetime series such as Spin City and The Good Wife, where in a casting masterstroke, he played a slippery lawyer with Parkinson’s who used his condition to manipulate judges and juries.

“I’m kind of a freak,” Fox told AARP journalist Andrew Corsello, who previously interviewed the star in 2017. “It’s weird that I’ve done as well as I have for as long as I have,” he admitted.

young Michael J Fox
Michael J. Fox in his Eighties heyday. Source: Getty

When asked how he felt overall, he quipped: “Above average, for a brain-damaged human.”

“People often think of Parkinson’s as a visual thing, but … it’s what you can’t see — the lack of an inner gyroscope, of a sense of balance, of peripheral perception. I mean, I’m sailing a ship on stormy seas on the brightest of days.”

Despite all this, Fox – who has four children to long-time wife Tracy Pollan, his Family Ties co-star – says he considers himself “a lucky man”.

“For one thing, I am genuinely a happy guy. I don’t have a morbid thought in my head — I don’t fear death. At all.”

For this, he credits his late father-in-law who “always espoused gratitude and acceptance and confidence”.

“I started to notice things I was grateful for and the way other people would respond to difficulty with gratitude. I concluded that gratitude makes optimism sustainable.”

Another source of inspiration for the star, he confessed, was fellow Parkinson’s sufferer Muhammad Ali. The boxing legend, who died in 2016, persuaded Fox that it was more healing than painful to revisit his old hit movies such as Back to the Future and television shows.

“I used to avoid watching myself on the TV shows I did when I was much younger, because I was healthier then and showed no signs of Parkinson’s,” confided Fox. “But I wondered about Ali, whom I had become friendly with. He’d been such a beautiful athlete before Parkinson’s. So, after he died, I asked his wife, Lonnie, if he ever watched recordings of his fights. ‘He watched for hours,’ she said. ‘He loved it!’ And I thought, Yeah, I should love it, too. It’s a legacy, some graffiti that leaves a message of positivity.”

When asked if he had any regrets about roads not travelled throughout his diverse acting career, Fox did confess to one biggie:

“I have only a few regrets about roles I was approached about but didn’t pursue. One is Ghost. Now I can’t imagine anyone other than Patrick Swayze doing it.”

The inspirational star who continues to work tirelessly as an ambassador for the Parkinson’s Foundation, also gave great advice for those living with the condition.

“Have an active life and do not let yourself get isolated and marginalized. You don’t die of  Parkinson’s. You die with Parkinson’s, because once you have it, you have it for life — until we can remedy that, and we’re working hard at it.

“So, to live with it, you need to exercise and be in shape and to eat well. Maintain friendships. Don’t say, ‘Oh, I don’t have anything to say to Bob.’ Bob might have something to say to you. Just make the call.”

And demonstrating the trademark wit that fueled his successful Hollywood career, Fox shared a humorous post to his Instagram just before Christmas, that showed off his unconventional Christmas tree star: an action figure of himself in his Back to the Future heyday, as Marty McFly. Famous pals gave him the thumbs up with Dirty Dancing star Jennifer Grey saying: “Shine on, foxy.”


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