Michael J. Fox Opens Up About Health Scares Amid Parkinson's Disease Battle

The Back to the Future and Spin City actor was diagnosed with the disease, a brain disorder, in 1991 and shared his diagnosis publicly in 1998.

By Corinne Heller Mar 01, 2019 5:32 PMTags
Michael J. Fox, New York TimesMamadi Doumbouya / New York Times

It has been more than 20 years since Michael J. Fox revealed he has Parkinson's disease and in a new interview, the actor opened about his ailment and also revealed he had a couple of new health scares last year.

The 57-year-old Back to the Future and Spin City actor was diagnosed with the disease, a brain disorder, in 1991 and shared his diagnosis publicly in 1998. Two years later, he quit acting full-time to focus on fighting Parkinson's. While there is no cure for the disease, medications, surgery and other treatments can alleviate some symptoms, which include tremors, stiffness, and impaired balance and coordination. Also, while Parkinson's disease is not considered fatal, patients have a shorter life expectancy than the general population.

Last year, Fox underwent spinal surgery that was unrelated to his disease. In an interview with the New York Times, posted on Friday, the actor talked about the surgery and also revealed that last year he also fractured his arm in a fall.

"I was having this recurring problem with my spinal cord," he said. "I was told it was benign but if it stayed static I would have diminished feeling in my legs and difficulty moving. Then all of a sudden I started falling—a lot. It was getting ridiculous. I was trying to parse what was the Parkinson's and what was the spinal thing. But it came to the point where it was probably necessary to have surgery. So I had surgery, and an intense amount of physical therapy after."

"I did it all, and eventually people asked me to do some acting," he said.

Last year, the actor appeared on the show Designated Survivor.

"Last August I was supposed to go to work," he continued. "I woke up, walked into the kitchen to get breakfast, misstepped and I went down. I fractured the hell out of my arm. I ended up getting 19 pins and a plate. It was such a blow."

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Fox recalled his feelings when he was first diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

"I was so scared," he said. "I was so unfamiliar with Parkinson's. Someone is saying your life is going to be completely changed. Yeah? When? I'm fine now but back then I wasn't in the 'I'm fine now.' I was in the 'I'm going to be bad.' That thinking didn't allow me to trust that I could make a decision without worrying about time restrictions or financial pressures—which were inflated in my head."

"If I'd had any imperative to accomplish anything with movies, it shouldn't have been to do as many quick successful ones as I could," he said. "It should've been to do as many good ones as I could. To do one good one. To find something that meant something to me. And it wasn't until '94 that I started getting it. That's when I started to accept the disease—and acceptance doesn't mean resignation. It means understanding and dealing straightforwardly. When I did Spin City, I started to do that."

Fox said he still believes in a cure for Parkinson's disease.

"There's a new drug that's been approved that's like a rescue inhaler for when you freeze," he said. "Because freezing is a very real thing for Parkinson's patients. I could be sitting here with my foot on fire and a glass of water over there on the table and all I'd be able to do is think about how good it would feel to pour that water on my foot. Treatments for that can make a huge difference in people's lives. Now, if we can prophylactically keep Parkinson's symptoms from developing in a person, is that a cure? No," he said. "Would I take it? Yes."