Michael J. Fox, most famous for his roles as staunch conservative Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties and as the time-traveling companion of Doc Brown in the Back to the Future franchise, appeared to have everything going for him in the late '80s. The actor, who comes from a Canadian military family, considered himself lucky when it came to the roles he landed. But in 1991, something felt off. The actor noticed a twitch in his pinkie, and less than a year later, he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's disease. The degenerative disorder affects nerve cells in the brain, causing tremors and joint stiffness, and impairing body movement.
Although there is no known cure, Fox is still optimistic about his diagnosis. The actor has become the celebrity advocate of Parkinson's disease, and his charity, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, has provided over $900 million to Parkinson's research and treatment.
- Photo: ABC
His Public Announcement Came In The Midst Of A Successful Sitcom Run On ‘Spin City’
Fox became a mainstay in American homes as New York City Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty on Spin City. Fox signed on for the show in 1996, and he made sure that the show's producers were aware of his situation. Two years later, the show was at its peak ratings-wise.
Despite all of the success, the show still took a toll on Fox and his health. The 14-hour days started becoming too much, so production worked with Fox to make his situation more comfortable as he continued to star in the hit ABC series.
Post-Diagnosis, Fox Accelerated His Work Schedule, Including Film Roles In ‘The American President’ And ‘The Frighteners’
After he was diagnosed, Fox was determined to stay on top of his acting career. After all, his doctor had told him he had about 10 years before his career would be halted by his condition's debilitating symptoms. He starred in For Love or Money (1993), Life With Mikey (1993), and Greedy (1994) as part of a three-picture contract. He then played roles in 1995's The American President and 1996's The Frighteners, both of which were somewhat disappointing.
Fox realized he needed to find a new way to run his career. "Moving to the rhythms of the business clearly made no sense to me. I needed to live my life for my family and myself," he told People.
He Famously Testified In Front Of Congress To Plead For Parkinson’s ResearchVideo: YouTube
On September 28, 1999, Fox presented his case for increased federal funding to aid Parkinson's research and treatment options. He noted that more and more young people are being diagnosed with the neurological disorder. Fox explained that with the proper resources, the "most curable neurological disorder" could have a cure:
Many have called Parkinson’s the most curable neurological disorder, and the one expected to produce a breakthrough first. Scientists tell me that a cure is possible, some say even by the end of the next decade, if the research dollars match the research opportunity.
- Photo: Spin City/ABC
He Left ‘Spin City’ In 2000 And Committed Much Of His Life To Finding A Cure
The actor stuck with the role of Mike Flaherty for two years after his diagnosis, but in 2000, Fox decided that his efforts would be better concentrated elsewhere. Fox issued a press release, explaining his choice:
I could not be more proud of the show... and all that we have accomplished over the last four years, yet I feel that right now my time and energy would be better spent with my family and working toward a cure for Parkinson's disease... This does not mean I am retiring from acting, producing or directing, only that I want to relieve the strain of producing and performing a weekly network series.
Fox's last appearance marked the show's 100th episode. ABC released a statement before Fox's departure to wish him well:
Michael has been an extraordinary partner over the past four years. We know that Spin City has been a labor of love for Michael and we are proud to have been a part of its success.