Inside Michael J. Fox's fight with Parkinson's after being diagnosed aged 29

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Michael J. Fox touched the heart of thousands of Back to the Future fans when he made an appearance at New York City’s Comic Con this weekend, reuniting on stage with co-star Christopher ‘Doc Brown’ Lloyd. 

Fox shot to global fame at 24 after playing time-travelling teen Marty McFly in the 1985 sci-fi film – but since his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease, he’s spent much of his career campaigning for better research and raising awareness on the progressive degenerative illness.  

The Canadian-born actor, 61, revealed earlier this year that the condition has impacted his acting career and the roles he has taken on; he’s now in retirement, with book writing his main source of income.  

The Teen Wolf star, now a father-of-four, was diagnosed in 1991 aged just 29, and made the diagnosis public seven years later in 1998. He has spent half of his life funding research and spreading awareness about the condition, which affects the brain and motor functions, damaging them over time. 

Michael J. Fox touched the heart of thousands of fans when he made an appearance at New York City's Comic Con at the weekend, where he was reunited with his Back to the Future co-star Christopher Lloyd

Michael J. Fox touched the heart of thousands of fans when he made an appearance at New York City’s Comic Con at the weekend, where he was reunited with his Back to the Future co-star Christopher Lloyd

The star has been sharing a glimpse of his life with Parkinson's on social media, counting on the support of his wife of 34 years Tracey Pollan and their four children

The star has been sharing a glimpse of his life with Parkinson’s on social media, counting on the support of his wife of 34 years Tracey Pollan and their four children

In 2000, Fox set up the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which has been dubbed by the New York Times: ‘the most credible voice on Parkinson’s research in the world.’

The star has also become a figure of support within the acting community, with Cruel Intentions actress Selma Blair revealing in 2019 that she reached out to him for support in 2018 when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

The actor turned writer shares glimpses of his life with Parkinson’s on social media, counting on the support of his wife of 34 years Tracey Pollan and their four children, Sam, Aquinnah, Schuyler and Esme. 

Fox was born in Alberta; his dad William was a war veteran and worked in the Canadian police forces, and his mother Phyllis was payroll clerk and actress.

The Teen Wolf star was diagnosed in 1991 at just 29, and made the diagnosis public in 1998. He has spent half his life funding research and spreading awareness about the condition, which affects the brain and motor functions, damaging them over time

The Teen Wolf star was diagnosed in 1991 at just 29, and made the diagnosis public in 1998. He has spent half his life funding research and spreading awareness about the condition, which affects the brain and motor functions, damaging them over time

Pals: Selma Blair, 46, posed with actor Michael J. Fox, 57, in an Instagram shot on Wednesday, as the actor has come to her aid amid her battle with MS

Pals: Selma Blair, 46, posed with actor Michael J. Fox, 57, in an Instagram shot on Wednesday, as the actor has come to her aid amid her battle with MS 

He began his acting career in the late 1970s but shot to fame playing Marty McFly in Steven Spielberg’s Back To The Future in 1985, at the age of 24. The role had been due to go to Eric Stoltz but the film was re-shot with Fox after producers didn’t think the first version worked.  

After becoming a mainstream Hollywood star thanks to Back to the Future and high school comedy Teen Wolf in 1985, Michael J. Fox turned to TV work, and played Mike Flaherty in the political sitcom Spin City. 

He was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s in 1991, three years into his marriage with his wife Tracy, who he had met on the set of his successfully 1980s sitcom Family Ties. 

The actor didn’t make his diagnosis public until seven years later in 1998, when he announced he would be leaving Spin City after the completion of the show’s fourth season. 

After beginning his acting career in the late 1970s, Fox rose to fame in 1985 when he starred as Marty McFly in Back to the Future

After beginning his acting career in the late 1970s, Fox rose to fame in 1985 when he starred as Marty McFly in Back to the Future 

That same year, Fox also starred in Teen Wolf, securing his status as one of Hollywood's leading men - before Parkinson's saw him forced to give up acting for good

That same year, Fox also starred in Teen Wolf, securing his status as one of Hollywood’s leading men – before Parkinson’s saw him forced to give up acting for good

His acting career continued but Fox later admitted the roles he could play were deeply impacted by his diagnosis. 

The actor, now retired, told Mike Birbiglia’s Working It Out podcast in June: ‘When I did the spinoff from The Good Wife, which is The Good Fight, I couldn’t remember the lines. I just had this blank, I couldn’t remember the lines,’ he said. 

‘I can’t remember five pages of dialogue. I can’t do it,’ he added. 

In 2020, he told People: ‘My guitar playing is no good. My sketching is no good anymore, my dancing never was good and acting is getting tougher to do. So it’s down to writing. Luckily, I really enjoy it.’

The star can count on the support of his four grown-up children and his wife Tracy, whom he met in the 1980s and married in 1988

The star can count on the support of his four grown-up children and his wife Tracy, whom he met in the 1980s and married in 1988 

The actor delighted fans when he appeared on a panel about Back to the Future at New York's comic con over the weekend

The actor delighted fans when he appeared on a panel about Back to the Future at New York’s comic con over the weekend 

Fox has penned four books since his diagnosis, with the last one, No Time Like The Future being published in 2020. 

Two years after making his diagnosis public, Fox set up the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in 2000, which has since then raised $1 billion in hopes of finding a cure for the disease. 

Through his fundraising work, he has become a leading voice in raising Parkinson’s awareness. 

However, Fox revealed to CBS he had questioned whether he had a right to tell people to have a ‘positive attitude’ and to ‘cheer up.’

The activist, who said in 2002 that Parkinson’s was a ‘gift that keeps on taking,’ admitted to the Guardian in 2020 that he didn’t believe a cure for his disease will be found during his lifetime. 

The actor told BCS in 2021 that he and Tracy didn't know what Parkinson's was when he was diagnosed in 1991

The actor told BCS in 2021 that he and Tracy didn’t know what Parkinson’s was when he was diagnosed in 1991

He also added that every step felt like ‘a math problem,’ to him and that it forced him to take things slow. 

‘It’s like my walking. I used to walk fast, but every step is now like a frigging math problem, so I take it slow.

‘And with acting, I used to race to the punchline. But I started to really pay attention because I couldn’t just skate over any moment,’ he added. 

The actor, writer and activist has raised $1billiont through his Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (pictured at a gala for the foundation in 2021)

The actor, writer and activist has raised $1billiont through his Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (pictured at a gala for the foundation in 2021) 

In 2018, the star was operated on for a benign tumour on his spine, which demanded a long, painful recovery. That same year, he suffered a bad fall and shattered his arm, which further worsened his general health. 

In his 2020 memoirs, the star said: ‘Have I oversold optimism as a panacea, commodified hope? In telling other patients, “Chin up! It will be OK”, did I look to them to validate my optimism? 

‘Is it because I needed to validate it myself? Things don’t always turn out. Sometimes things turn s*****. My optimism is suddenly finite,’ he added. ‘

Thankfully, Fox can count on the support of his wife, Tracey, whom he started dating in the 1980s and married in 1988. 

Speaking to CBS in 2021, 30 years after his diagnosis, Fox recalled: ‘So very early in the marriage she got this dumped on her. And the moment that I told her I was realizing was the last time we cried about it together. We haven’t cried about Parkinson’s since. 

‘We’ve just dealt with it and lived our lives. But we cried about it that first time,” he said. 

Sting performed at the 2021 gala for Michael's Foundation. In 2020, Fox said he didn't believe a cure for Parkinson's will be found in his lifetime

Sting performed at the 2021 gala for Michael’s Foundation. In 2020, Fox said he didn’t believe a cure for Parkinson’s will be found in his lifetime 

In the same interview, Fox said him and his wife did not know what Parkinson’s meant when he was diagnosed, and that the disease was ‘unchartered territory.’

‘We didn’t know what would happen. We didn’t know. You know, no one could say when it would have more effects. More symptoms than what I had, which was a twitch, twitching pinkie,’ Fox said. ‘But they [doctors] just said it was coming,’ he added. 

The couple had four children together: Sam, Schuyler, Aquinnah and Esme Fox, who often appear on Michael’s Instagram account and have been a constant support through his fight with the disease.

The whole family came out in force at a gala Fox’s foundation, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson’s, in 2021 in New York, where proud dad Michael stood front and centre. 

WHAT IS PARKINSON’S?

Parkinson’s disease affects one in 500 people, including about one million Americans.

It causes muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, tremors, sleep disturbance, chronic fatigue, an impaired quality of life and can lead to severe disability.

It is a progressive neurological condition that destroys cells in the part of the brain that controls movement.

Sufferers are known to have diminished supplies of dopamine because nerve cells that make it have died.

There is currently no cure and no way of stopping the progression of the disease, but hundreds of scientific trials are underway to try and change that.  

The disease claimed the life of boxing legend Muhammad Ali in 2016.

Sting, a personal friend of Fox, performed at the gala, which was attended by a plethora of A-listers and celebs, including Julianne Moore, Katie Couric, Spike Lee and Joan Jett. 

Through his fundraising and his activism, Fox has become a voice that other stars turn to for support in their own health battles. 

Cruel Intensions’ Selma Blair revealed in 2019 that she reached out to the Back to the Future actor in 2018 after she was diagnosed with MS, thinking it was Parkinson’s. 

‘I said, “I don’t know who to tell, but I am dropping things. I’m doing strange things”,’ she said. 

‘He got in touch with me and we began a conversation – so he really helped me,’ the told Good Morning America. 

‘Plus I was like, “I have Michael J. Fox’s email now,” like that’s pretty cool, I’m cooler than I thought.’

The pair are now friends, with Blair revealing Fox ‘gives her hope.’ 

It was evident that the degenerative disease was taking its physical toll on Michael’s body as he was seen staggering as he walked on stage at Comic Con on Saturday. 

Taking to the stage to thousands of Back To The Future fans in New York, Canadian-American actor Michael, 61, recounted how he and Emmy-award-winning Christopher, 83, met for the first time. 

But despite the rigidity and slowness in movement as he continues to experience the advances stages of the illness, he seemed in good spirits as he gave a cheery wave to the thousands of fans who gave him and Christopher Lloyd a standing ovation.

The pair also shared a heartfelt embrace – and Lloyd held his friend and former co-star as he hunched into his arms.

Fans who couldn’t make it to New York themselves shared their emotion when watching footage of the pair reuniting at Comic Con on Twitter.

Lots of people acknowledged Michael’s bravery at continuing to make public appearances despite the decline in his health.

‘The best part of this movie was working with Chris,’ he said, also adding that he found it ‘fun’ working with Chris ‘because he’s just genius’.

He also said that the pair had an ‘immediate chemistry’ – while Lloyd called Fox the ‘King of Exposition’.

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