Michael J. Fox went into a dark period after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and he chose alcohol as a way of coping until it took its toll. Now, it’s been nearly 30 years since he had his last drink.
In 1990, when Fox noticed that his left pinkie was trembling uncontrollably, he knew that something was wrong. A year later, he went to a neurologist in Manhattan and received the diagnosis. He had young-onset Parkinson’s.
The actor went home and shared the news with his wife, Tracy Pollan. At first, they didn’t know what to do, so Fox simply tried to forget what he had and moved on with his life.
However, his wife didn’t think this was a good idea. Against her advice, Fox got all the jobs he could. He could “pretend” everything was fine, but the pain was still there.
The 59-year-old actor found comfort in alcohol at the time, even though he’d been alcohol-free for a while — he quit drinking when they got married. The man didn’t want his wife to know about that, so he hid the bottles from her.
However, that would take a toll on their young marriage. Michael J. Fox revealed to People that he was isolating himself from family and friends.
Fox’s wife said they were scared because they didn’t know how to cope with the disease:
“It was scary because you just don’t know how it’s going to turn out. You’re obviously not going to live like that for the rest of your life.”
They both had the last straw after he had a drinking night out with his pals in 1992. He came home and passed out on the sofa with a can of beer spilling on the rug.
His wife found him the next morning — instead of an angry wife, he found himself looking at a bored woman. She asked him if this was what he wanted from life.
He decided that would be his last drink. He took a step at a time, headed to an AA meeting, got sober, and began seeing a therapist. The therapy was providential to the actor’s acceptance of his disease:
“Acceptance isn’t resignation. Now I can move on. I can start the [Michael J. Fox Foundation]. I can work with other patients. I can be with my family and allow them to worry about me.”
Besides the therapy and the assistance he received from AA, Fox credits his wife, Tracy Pollan, for keeping up with him and pulling him out of the funk.
Through acceptance, he found out that his disease is a gift. In his 2002 memoir, "Lucky Man," the actor writes candidly not only about Parkinson’s disease but also shares his memories about growing up in Western Canada, his meteoric rise to stardom, and the support from his family and friends.
In 2018, Fox found a tumor on his spine and had to undergo surgery to remove it. The Parkinson’s disease also made his recovery more challenging due to the tremors and lack of stability he has over his body.
He wanted to assure his family he’d be fine without them, so one day he was home by himself, but he fell over and shattered his arm, an injury that ended up requiring 19 screws.
The incident didn’t hurt his spine but it put him in a spiral of despair and the man, who was once the optimistic, glass-half-full kind of guy, found himself in a bad place.
In 2020, Fox wrote his second memoir, “No Time Like The Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality.” He shared:
“Is it because I needed to validate it myself? Things don’t always turn out. Sometimes things turn shitty. My optimism is suddenly finite.”
Michael J. Fox was one of the biggest Hollywood stars in the ‘80s. Before playing his most known role as Marty McFly in “Back to the Future,” he was in the TV sitcom "Family Ties," playing the son of a hippie couple.
Prior to his meteoric success on the TV screens, the teenage Michael dropped out of high school in Vancouver in order to become an actor in L.A. The directors bought into his unique performance style and athletic. He would say to the directors that it was a “Canadian thing” and he would land the role.
His inclination for comedy can be noticed in the underrated comedy “The Hard Way,” and of course, the skateboarder and rocker McFly in “Back to the Future.”
However, Fox’s disposition to comedy was quite physical, so when Parkinson’s disease hit him, not only did he lose the ability of body control, but he also lost his vehicle of comedic expression.
To better illustrate that lost — Fox was the face that editors would often cut to get an appropriate reaction to the scene, as he was quite expressive and animated.
The irony of it all was that his condition prevented him from performing his famous “expressions.” Because of the condition, his face began retreating to a passive, “almost frozen disposition,” as he once described to The Guardian reporter.
Nowadays, Fox is considered the world’s reference when it comes to Parkinson’s disease. Even after nearly three decades since the day he was first diagnosed with it, he is still learning how to deal with such an “insidious disease.”
There haven’t been many studies and findings around the possible causes of Parkinson’s disease. The 59-year-old actor believes that it could be a combination of pollution and genetics.
He learned later on that four other cast members of the TV show “Leo & Me” that he performed with as a teen back in Canada also developed the disease.
After “Back to the Future,” the actor starred in the series "Spin City" that rendered him an Emmy in 2000. He also starred in movies such as “The American President”, and “Mars Attacks!”
In 2009, he made an appearance in some TV series that granted him another Emmy Award, namely in the episode Rescue Me in "Boston Legal." He also appeared in other shows such as “Designated Survivor” and “The Good Wife.”