Back in 1991 Michael J. Fox was on top of the world. Now, after a long and arduous battle with Parkinson's disease, he's changing it. In celebration of his 54th birthday, let's take a look back through Fox's turbulent life, and take a moment to reflect on the inspirational fortitude shown by this truly remarkable individual.
A Promising Star Struck Down in His Prime
After scoring a leading role in the hit TV show Family Ties, Fox became one of the hottest up-and-coming stars. Everybody in Hollywood wanted a piece of the actor, especially after he cemented himself as an icon of '80s pop culture, forever remembered as the puffy-vest-wearing time traveler, Marty McFly, in the beloved Back to the Future franchise. His guitar solo in this unforgettable scene never fails to give me chills!
Then, suddenly and unexpectedly Fox's life was changed forever, diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at the unusually young age of 30 (70% of sufferers are over 50). Parkinson's is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects the sufferer's motor system, making everyday activities like eating, dressing and even talking a strenuous effort.
A Low Point
It hardly seemed fair, the promising movie star's life flipped upside down in an instant. In fact, Fox almost refused to believe it himself and descended into a dangerous spiral of denial and self-destruction:
I hate the way it makes me look. That means that I hate me.
He began drinking heavily to escape the pain. In an interview with The Guardian, the actor recalls one of his lowest points: waking up on his sofa stinking of booze, with his baby son crawling on him next to half a can of beer. This was a stark wake-up call, and it wasn't long before Fox sought help to stop his drinking for good.
Though he tried to hide it from the public for as long as possible, the actor found it too difficult to mask his symptoms any longer and he was forced to leave his successful TV show Spin City in 2001.
Get Busy Living, or Get Busy Dying
Struck down by a debilitating disease during the prime of his life, Fox was faced with two decisions: be consumed by bitterness and resentment for the life he was robbed of, or face reality and try to make a positive impact on the world. Fox opted for the latter, setting up the Michael J. Fox Foundation with the intention to help advance every promising research path towards curing Parkinson's disease.
You can't help but admire the actor-turned-activist's relentlessly positive attitude in the face of adversity:
Once you accept it and you learn about it and you realize you're part of a community, and then you realize you're in a position to do something and to make a difference and help - well then it's just like quit you're bitching and get on with it.
Fox has said he's found the charity work even more rewarding than his previous, more glamorous career:
I mean, I enjoy my work as an actor. But to make a difference in people's lives through advocacy and through supporting research - that's the kind of privilege that few people will get, and it's certainly bigger than being on TV every Thursday for half an hour.
Wise words indeed.
A Blessing in Disguise
It's incredible how well the actor has adapted to his new life, making the absolute best of an unfortunate situation, which may just have been a blessing in disguise:
In fact, Parkinson's has made me a better person. A better husband, father and overall human being.
Not only that, but Fox's condition has made the world a better place, with his Foundation being the largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson's disease research in the world, having invested more than $450 million to date.
Furthermore, by speaking candidly and openly about Parkinson's, Fox has no doubt helped thousands of fellow sufferers by reassuring them that they are not alone. Crucially, he's made a note of keeping up his media appearances, going a long way to normalizing the disease's symptoms in the eyes of the public. Just take a look at this deeply moving interview with Ellen:
However, what is perhaps most incredible is the fact that Fox has refused to let his condition prevent him from acting, appearing on Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Michael J. Fox Show in recent years. He remains a shining beacon of inspiration for us all, his ever-resilient optimism setting an admirable example for all of those who are battling adversity:
I was 29-years-old, so it was the last thing I expected to hear. The doctor said you have Parkinson's disease. He said the good news is you have about 10 years of work left, and that was 22 years ago and I'm still working.
Michael J. Fox once said that he hoped to find a cure for Parkinson's so that he could dance at his children's weddings when he was in his 50s. He's now 54 and there is still no known cure, but you can bet he'll continue fighting to rid the world of Parkinson's for many more birthdays to come.
Visit The Michael J. Fox Foundation website for more information on how to get involved in the cause.