10 interesting facts about Michael J. Fox

Michael J. Fox has more than outlived and outperformed what others said was possible since his Parkinson’s diagnosis in 1991. Here are 10 amazing facts about this life.

An outspoken advocate for people living with Parkinson’s disease, as well as a respected and accomplished actor, Michael J. Fox has achieved so much, on and off screen. His incredible life has been captured in four autobiographies and a recent documentary called ‘Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie’ which tells his incredible outlook on life, journey with his disease and what the future looks like for Parkinson’s research.

Curious to find out more about Michael? Read on… 

He was a high school dropout and failed drama class 

At just 17, Fox was juggling a nightly long-running play and his role in TV series Leo and Me, and just barely finding the time and energy to show up for school. Perhaps unfairly and despite his ‘on the job’ training, Fox’s drama teacher wouldn’t give him class credit for his extracurricular acting.  

When he made the decision to drop out, his social studies teacher famously warned him “You’re making a big mistake, Fox. You’re not going to be cute forever.” He called dropping out a “stupid youthful mistake” and one that he forbade his children to make, requesting they at least finish high school and consider 1-2 years of college. 

Despite this, Fox has received recognition in the academic world  

Although he dropped out of Burnaby Central Secondary School before he could receive his high school diploma, Fox was given an honorary diploma from John Dewey High School when he spoke at their graduation in 1984 at the age of 22. He also received an honorary degree (Doctor of Fine Arts) from New York University and an honorary degree (Doctor of Laws) from the University of British Columbia in 2008, and he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute for his work in advocating for a cure for Parkinson’s disease.  

Michael J. Fox isn’t really his name 

Not quite anyway! Unfortunately, ‘Michael Fox’ was already registered to another actor in the Screen and Actors Guild (SAG), instead of using the initial of his middle name (Andrew) he used ‘J’ instead as a nod to actor Michael J. Pollard. He said he didn’t want to appear in headlines such as “Michael, A Fox!”. 

Fox accepted his breakout role in Family Ties from a phone box 

At 18, Fox moved to LA following the success of Leo and Me, but the job offers stopped coming in and he resorted to a diet of boxed macaroni and cheese. When the role in Family Ties came up, Fox had no home phone so he negotiated the deal from a phone booth.

He met his wife on the set of Family Ties  

Tracy Pollan first met on the set of Family Ties in 1985. But it wasn’t until they co-starred in ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ in 1988 that their once platonic relationship changed. A rarity in Hollywood, the couple credit their rock-solid and long-lasting marriage to their shared optimism, positive outlook and the importance of a good belly laugh.  

“Every day we have something we laugh about for a good two minutes. The kind of support she gives me, I feel like a husband, a father and a friend first, and then somewhere way down the line, I’m someone with Parkinson’s.” 

Fox and his family were almost on a fatal plane that crashed   

In 2000, Fox and his family flew from Paris back to New York, just one day later the Air France Flight 4590 crashed, killing all 109 people on board. Fox later reported they had considered waiting an extra day to leave. When he heard about the tragedy on the news, he was so shocked and relieved that he immediately started crying. 

The role of Marty McFly almost went to a different actor 

Although he was their first choice for the iconic role of Marty McFly in Back to the Future (1985), scheduling conflicts almost changed the course of Fox’s career.   

The role was instead given to rising star  Eric Stoltz, but this casting was short lived and within six weeks Fox accepted and took over the role of Marty McFly.  

It was a career move that shot Fox to fame on the silver screen. Back to the Future spent eight consecutive weekends as the number-one grossing movie at the US box office in 1985, and eventually earned a worldwide total of $381.11 million.  

Fox spent seven years in denial of his disease  

Fox was filming Doc Hollywood (1991) when he noticed his finger twitching uncontrollably. He saw a doctor and was quickly diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He was told he would have just a couple more years left to work. 

After his diagnosis, Fox began drinking heavily and grew depressed. He eventually sought help after being prompted by his wife. Fox stopped drinking altogether and has been sober since 1992.  

Fox continued working on his series Spin City, often resorting to hiding his hand in his pocket to hide the tremors. However, during the third season it became too difficult to conceal and he told the cast and crew. Just a year later announced his retirement from the show.  

In 1998, Fox found he was unable to keep his illness under wraps any longer. Hounded by the paparazzi, he decided he would share his story on his own terms, sitting down for interviews with Barbara Walters and People Magazine.  

[on being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease] People always ask me if I say to myself “Why me?” and I tell them, “Why not me?”. 

Two years later he started the Michael J. Fox Foundation and became an advocate for people living with Parkinson’s disease.  

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinsons Research has raised more than $2 billion 

By 2023, the Foundation had raised $2 billion for Parkinson’s research projects and is the largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson’s drug development.  

“In every aspect, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work toward leaving an impact on the world and on the lives around me and to be a partner in the critical research for answers.” 

Last year, the Foundation had an incredible breakthrough, finding a biomarker that can help determine if people have Parkinson’s before symptoms start. 

“It was one of the few times I cried about what we were doing. We wanted to find a way that we can diagnose the disease before the symptoms are there. Because then we could treat it, and you’d never have it. It was a big break — and a great moment.” 

Despite officially retiring in 2020, the script of Fox’s screen career remains unfinished 

With the success of Michael’s 2023 autobiographical movie ‘Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie’, and recent appearance at the BAFTAs where he received a standing ovation from the crowd, it appears that Michael’s decision to retire from acting may be more of an intermission. Despite his ongoing struggle with Parkinson’s Disease, he’s not ready to rule out future opportunities.  

“I’ve won more awards and had more nominations since I announced my diagnosis,” says Fox. “It may be that people feel bad for me, but I prefer to look at it as an acknowledgment for continuing to have a legitimate career.” 

“Back to the Future Reunion NYCC 8” by Chris Roth iis licensed under CC BY 2.0 DEED. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en.
“Michael J Fox at Lotusphere in 2012” by Paul Hudson is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/?ref=openverse.
“Tracy Pollan, Michael J. Fox (2092448600)” by Alan Light is licensed under CC BY 2.0 DEED. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en.
“Michael J. Fox (2092446922)by Alan Light is licensed under CC BY 2.0 DEED. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en.