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Michael J Fox Kept His Illness a Secret for Years after His Wife of 3 Decades Cried about His Diagnosis

Titi Dokubo
Mar 20, 2022
12:40 P.M.
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Michael J. Fox became one of the most famous actors from the 1980s when he rose to fame following his portrayal of Alex Keaton on "Family Ties."


Through the series, he met his wife Tracy, and they have been married for 33 years now. However, early on in their marriage, the couple's resilience got tested after a shocking diagnosis.

They both cried over it, and he decided to hide it from the public for seven years. Here's a look into the life of the actor and the reason he kept his diagnosis private.

Michael J. Fox at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on April 30, 2019 [left], Portrait of Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan on the set of t"Family Ties" in 1986 [right] | Source: Getty Images


At 15, Michael J. Fox made his professional acting debut on the series "Leo and Me." After starring in "Letters from Frank," he dropped out of high school, moved to Los Angeles, and got a role in "Palmerstown, U.S.A." before his role on "Family Ties."

He further starred in "Back to the Future," "Teen Wolf," "The Secret of My Success," "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey," "Rescue Me," The Good Wife," and more.



The actor who uses "J" as his middle name was born Michael Andrew Fox on June 9, 1961, to Bill and Phyllis in Canada. Being too small to compete in ice hockey, he joined drama class.

After appearing on stage in "The Shadow Box," he realized his love for acting. When he moved to Los Angeles, the television series roles stopped coming, and he had to survive on boxes of macaroni and cheese.

He sold books to get money for groceries and borrowed cash from his parents to pay his rent before landing the role on "Family Ties."

Portrait of Michael J. Fox circa 1982 | Source: Getty Images



Fox met his wife Tracy Pollan on the "Family Ties" set, where she played his girlfriend, Ellen Reed. At the time, she was dating Kevin Bacon and rarely spent non-filming time with Fox.

By 1987, Pollan and Fox's relationship blossomed on the set of "Bright Lights, Big City." Seven months later, Fox proposed on December 26, 1987.

The couple wanted to get married in a low-key ceremony because they had started getting threatening messages from Traci Marie Ledbetter. She was eventually admitted to a psychiatric facility.

Tracy Pollan and Michael J. Fox at the Los Angeles premiere of "Back To The Future Part 2" | Source: Getty Images


On July 16, 1988, they married at the West Mountain Inn in Arlington. Even though they chose an out-of-the-way location, paparazzi still found them with helicopters.

On May 30, 1989, they had their first son, Sam Michael. On February 15, 1995, they welcomed twin daughters Aquinnah Kathleen and Schuyler Phyllis, and on November 3, 2001, they had another daughter Esmé Annabelle.



While filming the 1991 movie "Doc Hollywood" in Florida, he noticed the first troubling muscle tremor. His pinky finger wouldn't stop twitching, and it took him a year to find out why.

When the doctor told him he had Parkinson's, it was not something he had on his mind at 29. He thought what was happening to him was ridiculous and unbelievable.


Fox was in denial, but his slurred speech, tremors, and muscle stiffness are the signature symptoms of the disease. His doctor told him that he had ten years left to work because the disease was progressive and there was no cure.

Being newly married, he told his wife about his diagnosis, and he knew it was unfair that she was getting this dumped on her so early in their marriage.

After he told her, they cried about it, which was the last time they cried about Parkinson's. He said they have just dealt with it and lived their lives.


They didn't know what it meant, what to expect, and it was uncharted territory for them. Fox said,

"We didn't know what would happen. [...] You know, no one could say when it would have more effects. More symptoms than what I had, which was a twitch, twitching pinkie."

After his diagnosis, he kept the news from his friends and the public. He said he was scared that if people knew that he had an illness, they wouldn't be able to laugh.


But like with everything in life, he accepted the truth and realized that if something terrible doesn't happen to you, you won't appreciate the good things.

Even though he feels like it's a drag being different, he is learning to live with it. He is prioritizing his 'now' because he believes now is the future.


There was a struggle before he went public. It took him seven years to reveal his diagnosis because he wanted to deal with how it affected him and was concerned with himself.

When he started talking to scientists and understood what research had for the future, he became hopeful. Even though he wishes he wasn't in this situation, he is trying to find an answer as a happy-go-lucky guy.



In his quest for answers, Fox discovered that the amount of funding for Parkinson's research is meager, and so he formed a team to raise money for research to find a cure someday.

He started the Michael J. Fox Foundation, where they have passionately funded research to ensure the development of improved therapies for those living with the disease.


The foundation has funded or sponsored scores of clinical trials and has supported Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative. They have also helped families of people living with Parkinson's share their lived experiences of the disease.

The foundation has raised over one billion dollars for Parkinson's research. They are not resting because the disease is a problem that needs to be solved, and they are hopeful.

Despite his health challenges, Fox has realized that one can be a realist and an optimist at the same time. He realized he could find gratitude in any situation.


He revealed that he is in a good groove in recent times because every day is different. The things he can do have gradually reduced, but he is happy for his family and the time he has with them.

The actor, who officially retired in 2020, is excited that he and his wife are empty nesters. In 2021, they sold their house and decided to take a trip because they didn't have anybody to pick up at school.