Michael J. Fox retires again: A look at his longtime battle with Parkinson’s
Let’s talk about an America’s Canadian treasure, Michael J, Fox. An 80s film icon with his roles in such films as Teen Wolf and the Back to the Future trilogy mixed with a robust television career, everyone knows who Michael J Fox is. What also is known about Fox is his well documented battle with Parkinson’s disease, which led to a semi-retirement in 2000.
Since then, Fox has become an advocate for research on Parkinson’s while also continuing his acting career with voice-over work mixed with guest stints in television series such as Rescue Me & The Good Wife. In his most recent memoir, No Time Like The Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality, Fox disclosed that he is officially retired from acting due to his worsening condition.
With this in mind, let’s go over a brief timeline of Fox’s battle with the disease and the roles that he took during his semi-retirement.
While shooting the film, Doc Hollywood in 1991, Fox began to display symptoms of Parkinson’s disease while on set. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s shortly after displaying symptoms. This, according to Fox, leads to a period of him drinking very heavily and suffering from depression. Eventually, he sought out help for the drinking.
If you want to learn more about Fox’s struggle with his diagnosis and keeping it quiet in Hollywood for seven years, then definitely check out his first book, Lucky Man, which goes into a lot more depth.
Fox kept his Parkinson’s diagnosis quiet for almost seven years in Hollywood, which is pretty impressive all things considered. During this time, he kept working steadily with roles such as The American President in 1995 and his television return in 1996 with Spin City, where he played the deputy mayor of New York. Both he and famed boxer Muhammad Ali became the famous faces for Parkinson’s.
With the announcement, Fox also became an advocate for Parkinson’s disease and research. He founded the Michael J Fox Foundation, which was created to help fund every promising path to curing Parkinson’s disease. Fox has helped lead the $100 million USD effort in the Foundation’s landmark observational study in discovering the biological markers of Parkinson’s.
Ali & Fox appeared in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee to talk about Parkinson’s research. Fox made the decision to stop taking his medication before appearing in front of the committee. On this, he would write.
“I had made a deliberate choice to appear before the subcommittee without medication. It seemed to me that this occasion demanded that my testimony about the effects of the disease, and the urgency we as a community were feeling, be seen as well as heard. For people who had never observed me in this kind of shape, the transformation must have been startling.”
In 2000, Fox’s Parkinson’s symptoms were worsening so he decided to take a step back from acting. He would go into a “semi-retirement”. This led to him exiting Spin City where he was replaced by Charlie Sheen. Fox would instead focus on voice-over work, such as Stuart Little & Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
Fox would have a fairly busy career while being semi-retired during this time. Mainly, he would be used effectively in guest roles on a number of television series from Scrubs to Rescue Me to The Good Wife. His roles usually netted him Emmy nominations for Best Guest appearances. During this time, Fox also wrote several books as well, largely memoirs and dealing with his Parkinson’s.
During this time, Time named him one of the 100 people “whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world”. He received three honorary degrees for both his contributions as a performer and his dedication to Parkinson research and awareness.
Fox attempted to make a television comeback as a series regular with The Michael J. Fox Show, which was loosely based on his life. It featured Fox playing a character who was dealing with Parkinson’s. Unfortunately, the ratings for the series weren’t great and NBC cancelled it after a season.
Following this, Fox went back to his guest roles along with appearing in several documentaries. Due to Parkinson’s impacting his ability to memorize his lines amongst other issues, however, Fox has decided to stop actively seeking work as an actor. In 2020, Fox appeared in The Good Fight and the “Holiday” music video from Lil Nas X.