Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Michael J. Fox is a real inspiration for people with Parkinson's

I was intrigued to watch STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie on Apple TV because I wanted to learn more about his Parkinson’s, which we have been testing my dad for recently. And while his shaky legs and hands and current struggles with that are a really interesting part of the movie, I found his rise to fame from an active and under-sized trouble-maker with bad grades in Canada to three years of struggle in the slums of Beverly Hills before finally landing on his feet as Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties to be equally touching.

Hardly anyone believed in Fox in terms of having the skill to play what would go on to become, I think, his greatest role. But when the show was performed to test audiences, he slayed them and became an obvious star. It wasn’t long before Steven Spielberg called. Fox would work days at Family Ties and go directly to the Back to the Future studio site all night. For three-and-a-half months, he would experience confusion at times as to which set he was on and wonder “how could any of this shit be any good?”

When Back to the Future was at number one at the box office, Teen Wolf was right on its tail at number two. He won best actor for a comedy for Family Ties at the Emmys at the time too. It was like Actor Beatlemania, and he was hanging with all the coolest actors in L.A.

With his Parkinson’s, all his activity and busy-mindedness have possibly made it tougher for Fox to adapt to his new life. His personal trainer in the film says it’s difficult for him to slow down and his mind gets going faster than his body can handle, making Fox prone to falls as he walks. The trainer repeatedly says to slow down. The way his wife (Tracy Pollan, who he met through their roles in Family Ties) and son and daughter interact with him is beautiful, as they laugh at how he hardly responds to texts. They don't treat him differently because of his iconic status or his Parkinson’s.

Fox was in his late 20s when he was diagnosed, and he told himself, “how can I have this old-persons’ disease?” He had to take lots of pills and didn’t eat a lot. He drank alcohol to escape the situation. Siskel and Ebert start to regularly pan his work. 

He admits he was an alcoholic, but has now gone three decades without a drink. After a couple of years of difficulty adapting to abstinence, Fox got back into TV, with Spin City, and his life began to get back on track. Still, he constantly fretted about when he would need the next pill and what would happen if the last one wore off while he was in the middle of acting. 

Fox knew there was no way out of Parkinson’s. He would punch holes in walls. He had to tell people who would tell him to be careful that “there’s no being careful. You get Parkinson’s and you trip over shit and you fall down.” He finally disclosed his disease on national TV to Barbara Walters. “If you look at me long enough, you get used to it,” he says. It’s kind of an “Axl Rose” thing, he adds, recommending that people envision “Paradise City” when they look at him. Kids would say, "will you quit moving around?” And he would say “I’ll give it a shot.”

He decided he wanted to be in the world and not have Parkinson’s force him to hide from the world. He and Muhammad Ali testified on the Hill and continued to raise the importance of the issue and for finding a cure. 

The ending is really touching and shows his family supporting Fox as they all walk down the beach together. He lurches along and it makes you think about how important it is to take care of your loved ones who, as Vampire Weekend sings in the end credits, “I don’t want to live like this, but I don’t want to die.” Fox is a stunning example of someone who can inspire all those touched by Parkinson’s.

5 out of 5 stars

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