Michael J. Fox’s Heroic Battle With Parkinson’s Disease

By Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

In a previous blog post, we discussed the courageous story of actor Christopher Reeve, who suffered a paralyzing accident in the prime of his life.  With the help and support of his remarkable wife Dana, Christopher emerged as a gutsy champion of philanthropic causes and an inspiring hero to millions of people.  A similar story describes the life of actor Michael J. Fox.  An ultra-successful artist and comedic talent, Fox contracted Parkinson’s disease as a young man and has waged a courageous and inspiring battle ever since.

Fox first made his mark in Hollywood in his portrayal as teenager Alex Keaton in the popular television series Family Ties during the 1980s.  He then made the successful transition to feature films, his breakthrough performance coming in the blockbuster film trilogy Back to the Future.  Fox was on top of the world.  He was rich, handsome, talented, and wildly successful at his craft.  He even married the woman of his dreams, Tracy Pollan, in 1988.

Fox’s life then took a tragic, unexpected turn.  In 1991, he received the devastating diagnosis from doctors:  He had Parkinson’s disease, an incurable degenerative illness that attacks the central nervous system.  Fox continued his acting career while taking medications and undergoing numerous medical procedures.  But while starring in the hit television series Spin City ten years ago, he went public with his disease, acknowledging his steady decline and his need to curtail his acting.

His goals during his semi-retirement have been twofold:  Spend more time with his wife Tracy and their four children, and devote his remaining energies toward finding a cure for Parkinson’s.  Fox has been a workhorse in that regard.  His foundation, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, was created to help promote and support research aimed at curing Parkinson’s disease, primarily through embryonic stem cell studies.

Fox has testified a number of times before Congress to increase federal funding to defeat Parkinson’s.  He’s also rallied support from both Democrats and Republicans, using his fame and inspirational story to garner funding for his cause.  Said Fox: “Medical science has proven time and again that when the resources are provided, great progress in the treatment, cure, and prevention of disease can occur.”

The life we plan to lead is rarely the life we actually lead.  Twenty years ago, Michael J. Fox probably thought that he’d only make his mark in the world as an entertainer.  Life threw him a cruel curve, however.  Like many heroes, Fox has risen to the challenge with great aplomb and grace.  Rather than moving people with his acting, he is moving people in a far more significant and life-affirming way:  As a tireless advocate of funding and research aimed at defeating his crippling disease.  Fox’s steadfast commitment to triumphing over adversity is truly heroic.

Fox’s work has earned him some well-deserved recognition:  In 2007, Time Magazine named him one of the 100 people “whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world.”  We wish him well on his remarkable journey.

Below is a clip from Katie Couric’s interview with Michael J. Fox in 2006.

6 Responses to “Michael J. Fox’s Heroic Battle With Parkinson’s Disease”


  • Guys, Michael J Fox is an excellent choice for the Heroes Blog. What an incredible guy he is. He always had boundless energy and optimism as a young actor and having this terrible disease did nothing to diminish that. I don’t entirely agree with his position on stem cell research– I wish they would focus on adult stem cells– but I really hope that his efforts succeed and that a cure is found soon. It would be fantastic to see him live a long life, and be able to return to acting, free of symptoms. He deserves to outlive Rush Limbaugh. 8)

  • Michael J. Fox is an inspiration to people everywhere. What makes him a hero in my eyes is that he has continued to do what he loves even years after his diagnosis. I always love to see him making cameos on TV shows because it reminds us to never give up on our dreams and never stop fighting our obstacles.

  • I recently saw Michael J. Fox on an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and I was sad to see how his disease has affected him. I admire him greatly for continuing to appear on television as well as continue in his battle against Parkinson’s, whether it be his personal battle with the disease or his efforts to raise funds or his general ability to speak about his experiences. I admire him for remaining in the public eye despite having such a physically obvious disease, and even having the ability to make jokes about it occasionally. His strength is immeasurable.

  • Kudos to Michael for making the best of his life under difficult circumstances! A lot of people afflicted with such a disease at the top of their career would have just given up and withered away. I personally went through several years of a terrible health problem that forced me out of my career. Fortunately I eventually recovered and found new success in a new career but it was tough!

    I just saw Michael last week on “The Good Wife” in his recurring role as “Louis Canning”. It was great to see him on screen again!

  • The ability to face such diversity as this is truly something to marvel at. He is not only an inspiration to those with Parkinson’s disease, but also to anyone else who is struggling through a difficult disease. He is refusing to let it back him into a hole and end his life without making a difference. It may have taken acting from him, but he is finding other ways to make a difference. That is the most important thing. There are plenty of ways everyone can make a difference. Just because one is taken away from you doesn’t mean you can’t find another, and that is exactly what this man has done.

  • Caraline Mikkelsen

    I view Michael J. Fox as a hero because he contracted Parkinson’s disease as a young man, and inspired many with his ambition to persevere through it. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be diagnosed with an illness that will either result in death, or will be a hazardous to one’s health for life. To me, I would image that it must take a lot of inner strength to stay positive; I do not beleive that inner strength can be taught.

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