Diseases / Medical Conditions
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How Michael J. Fox Accepted His Parkinson's Diagnosis, Defied The Odds, And Fought For A Cure

Updated September 23, 2021 39k views13 items

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. 

  • While Filming ‘Doc Hollywood,’ He Noticed A Persistent Twitch

    When Fox was filming Doc Hollywood in 1991, he noticed a persistent "twitch" in his left pinkie. At first, the 29-year-old Fox simply thought it was an effect of a bad hangover. Fox went to a local neurologist in Florida, where the movie was being filmed, to get the tremor checked out.

    Initially, the neurologist believed that the shakiness stemmed from an ice hockey injury from Fox's youth in Canada. The actor continued filming as his condition continued, unaware of the medical battle that lied ahead.

  • He Was Diagnosed In 1991 After His Wife Noticed Something Was Wrong

    If it weren't for Fox's wife, actress Tracy Pollan, his Parkinson's diagnosis may have come much later than it did. In 1991, when Fox was jogging through Martha's Vineyard, Pollan was alarmed by her husband's appearance. Fox recalled what she said to him when she spotted him trembling during his exercise: "Get in the car. You don't know what you look like. Your left side is not moving. Only the right side is moving. It doesn't look good."

    A few days after this incident, Fox went to a neurologist in Manhattan, New York. His Parkinson's diagnosis came swiftly after the appointment.

  • He Sought Out Multiple Doctors Before Accepting His Diagnosis

    When Fox was initially diagnosed, he did what anyone with a life-altering prognosis would do: He got a second opinion. And then several others after that. At 30 years old, too fit and too young, many doctors initially believed he was misdiagnosed. Fox told People that he "would not go in thinking, 'Oh, good, this one [new doctor] thinks maybe it's wrong,' I'd say, 'You'll see. This is it.' From the beginning, I wasn't frantic. I was pretty methodical."

    Once Fox finally accepted his diagnosis, he did everything he could to research and understand what he was up against. He picked neurologists' brains and continued his own research as the condition continued to take a toll on his body.

  • When He Was Diagnosed, Doctors Told Him He Had 10 Years Of Work Left

    Video: YouTube

    On April 15, 2015, Fox appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman. The actor opened up about his 1991 diagnosis and how the idea of having Parkinson's disease didn't even cross his mind. He also revealed that doctors didn't believe he had much time left for an active or fruitful career:

    It was scary. 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 defied expectations by getting back into his career long after his initial 1991 diagnosis. The actor has been acting for nearly 30 years since his first diagnosis.