Things You Didn’t Know About Michael J. Fox

It seems that there is nothing that Michael J. Fox can’t do at this point. It’s been almost 30 years since he was given ten years to live upon being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but Fox hasn’t let it slow him down. When he’s not dedicating his time to the battle against Parkinson’s, he’s proven that he still has that on-screen charm that won us over in the ’80s. But as you’ll learn, fame almost didn’t happen for someone who left high school for Hollywood.

Michael J. Fox Isn’t Technically His Real Name

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His given name is Michael Anthony Fox, so where in the world did the “J” come from? When Fox registered with the Screen Actors’ Guild, there was already a Michael A. Fox in the system. To avoid confusion, he replaced his middle initial with a “J” as an homage to character actor Michael J. Pollard.

He also reportedly didn’t like the way Michael A. Fox sounded. He didn’t want teen magazines to be able to use headlines like, “Michael, A Fox!” The name adjustment was obviously quite necessary.

He Is A High School Dropout

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Michael J. Fox dropped out of high school to pursue an acting career, just shy of his senior year. His father, surprisingly, let him do this and even drove Fox from his native Canada to Los Angeles.

He reportedly regrets the decision as a “stupid youthful mistake” and eventually studied to get his GED at the age of 32. He also received an honorary high school diploma from Brooklyn’s John Dewey High School in 1984. As an adult, he has forbidden his own children from following in his footsteps. They were required to graduate from high school and possibly attend a couple years of college.

He Was So Broke He Had To Accept Roles From A Phone Booth

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Arriving in Hollywood at the ripe age of 18, Fox managed to secure a few minor roles but ended up scraping for pennies. Eventually, he was so broke that he was ignoring letters from collection agencies.

When he was waiting to hear back from NBC about Family Ties, he told them he’d only be home between the hours of four and five. The reason was that he had to use a public telephone. “When NBC called me in to say I had the part, I called my agent from a phone booth in front of the Pioneer Chicken to negotiate the contract,” he told The New York Times in 1985.

He Wasn’t The First Choice For Family Ties

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Michael J. Fox became an instant star from starring on Family Ties. He played Alex P. Keaton, a conservative high schooler that served as a foil to his liberal baby boomer parents. Family Ties was originally supposed to focus on the parents, but Fox was a breakout star and the show turned its focus to him within four episodes.

It would be an understatement to say that his success on Family Ties was good luck, especially considering the fact that NBC didn’t even have him in mind to play Alex. The producers originally wanted Matthew Broderick, who was unavailable for a long-term television commitment. He wasn’t the first choice and it took a while for everyone to be on board.

NBC’s President Thought He Couldn’t Sell A Lunchbox

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Fox’s charisma was what helped make the show an instant ’80s hit. However, not everyone was on board with the actor. Brandon Tartikoff, president of NBC at the time, wasn’t impressed.

For one, he thought that Fox was too short in relation to the actors that played his parents. Producer Gary David Goldberg insisted on keeping Fox, which Tartikoff reluctantly allowed saying, “but I’m telling you, this is not the kind of face you’ll ever see on a lunch box.” After his successes, Fox gifted Tartikoff a custom lunch box with his face on it. Tartikoff reportedly kept the lunchbox on his desk throughout the rest of his career.

His On-Screen Girlfriend Became His Real-Life Wife

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Michael J. Fox owes a lot to Family Ties. Not only did it help launch his career, but it is also how he met the love of his life. Fox met Tracy Pollan while filming season four when she played Alex’s girlfriend Ellen Reed.

At first, they were dating other people but got together after a chance meeting a couple years later. Fox proposed to Pollan after seven months of dating and they started having babies not long after. Today, they have four kids — son Sam, twins Aquinnah and Schuyler, and youngest Esmé — and have been married for 30 years and counting. “In sickness and in health” was a vow that was challenged several years down the road, however.

But A Stalker Tried To Break Them Apart

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After getting married in 1988, there was a lot that Fox and Pollan had to get through to live happily ever after. The couple faced serious threats from a stalker at the start of their marriage.

Tina Marie Ledbetter was reportedly upset that Fox had broken up with a previous girlfriend, actress Nancy McKeon, and that he subsequently married and got pregnant with Pollan. Ledbetter sent an average of 15 letters a day to Fox, with threats of killing Pollan and their baby. Some packages even contained rabbit droppings. Ledbetter was convicted and sentenced to probation and counseling.

The Movie That Blasted Him To Stardom

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Universal Pictures

Fox’s celebrity was solidified by 1985 when he starred in two major blockbusters that year: Teen Wolf and Back to the Future. But he almost didn’t get to play his most iconic role, Marty McFly.

Family Ties producers reportedly wouldn’t let director Robert Zemeckis offer Fox the role since they needed him for the show. But during a chance encounter, while filming Teen Wolf, Fox ran into the team for Back to the Future. Fox was cast within days. He had to film Family Ties during the day and Back to the Future at night.

The News That Changed Everything

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Michael J. Fox’s successes only continued after 1985 and his future was looking bright. But all of a sudden, things would turn dark. While he was filming for the 1991 film, Doc Hollywood, his pinky finger began twitching uncontrollably.

The diagnosis would turn out to be early onset symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Being the Hollywood prince he was at the time, this possibility was the furthest thing from his mind. He told CBS, “That is one of the few times in my life I felt like saying, ‘Do you know who I am?’ …I just thought, this is preposterous that this is happening to me.”

Alcoholism Helped Him Cope For A Little While

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Fox was given ten more years to live. He hid his diagnosis for the public for seven years. He spent that time coping with his diagnosis but quickly turned to alcoholism. He told Rolling Stone that it wasn’t long before his wife gave him an ultimatum.

“It was like snapping to and saying, ‘Holy [expletive]. This isn’t the preview. This is the movie. And I’m already well into the first big plot twist,’ which is that I was going to lose all of this stuff,” that stuff being his supportive family, he said. He joined an AA program and has been sober for over 20 years. As you read about how he came to terms with his condition, you’ll see how he has channeled his energy into something amazing.

Michael J. Fox Finally Came Clean

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In 1998, Michael J. Fox went public with his Parkinson’s disease, revealing that he was diagnosed almost a decade earlier when he was only 29. That year, he had undergone brain surgery to take care of his most telling symptom at the time, a violent shaking in his left arm.

“As I began to understand what research might promise for the future, I became hopeful that I would not face the terrible suffering so many with Parkinson’s endure. But I was shocked and frustrated to learn the amount of funding for Parkinson’s research is so meager,” he said before Congress.

He Decided To Leave His Show To Focus On Parkinson’s

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Fox was in the midst of starring on the ABC sitcom Spin City when he made his announcement. Until then, fans didn’t realize that he was working very hard to hide the symptoms on camera.

He told CBS that his biggest challenge at the time was acting like someone who didn’t have Parkinson’s while he was playing his character. He decided to leave the show after four seasons, saying in a statement, “I feel that right now my time and energy would be better spent with my family and working toward a cure for Parkinson’s disease.”

The Michael J. Fox Foundation Has Become A Forerunner For Parkinson’s Research

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In 2000, Fox founded The Michael J. Fox Foundation, which has since become the largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson’s research and drug development in the world. Fox has since been lauded as a forerunner in Parkinson’s research, frequently testifying before the Senate to appeal for funds towards stem cell research and Parkinson’s research.

“[As] happy-go-lucky as I seem to be… it sucks. I hate it! And I wish I wasn’t in this situation, but it’s been one of the greatest gifts of my life that I’ve been in the position to… try to find an answer,” Fox once told CBS. See why Fox laughs at peoples’ averse reactions to his symptoms.

He Doesn’t Expect To Find A Cure Before He Dies

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The Michael J. Fox Foundation funds research projects that work to slow, stop, or reverse the effects of Parkinson’s disease. The neurodegenerative disorder remains incurable. Fox doesn’t expect to find the cure in his lifetime but at least hopes to advance therapy techniques in the meantime.

“I’ll take that in the short term. The idea of finding that eureka! moment and the thing that cures it, I don’t know that that’ll happen in the next 20 years. But I do think that we’ll have therapies where it’s a vast improved quality of life for the people with Parkinson’s,” Fox told CBS.

Millions Of Dollars From Private Donations Go To Promising Projects

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Photo by Kevin Mazur/MJF/WireImage for The Michael J. Fox Foundation

To date, the Michael J. Fox Foundation has raised almost a billion dollars. In June 2018, the foundation announced plans to award $7.7 million towards 39 research projects that take innovative approaches towards understanding Parkinson’s.

These projects include using retinal scans to get early diagnoses and finding the correlation between the development of Parkinson’s and pesticide exposure. Every year, the foundation accepts applications for funding. More than 200 were reviewed in 2017. Of the 39 selected for 2018 funding, there are 19 teams from the United States, plus 20 scientists from 11 different countries.

He Thinks People’s Reactions To His Symptoms Are Funny

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At the time of his diagnosis, Fox was only given ten years to live, but he has obviously surprised everyone. Since the diagnosis, he has learned to find the humor in his predicament by realizing he doesn’t need to see himself through other peoples’ eyes.

“You deal with the condition, and you deal with people’s perception of the condition. It was easy for me to tune in to the way other people were looking into my eyes and seeing their own fear reflected back…After a while, the disconnect between the way I felt and the dread people were projecting just seemed, you know, funny,” he told AARP. Fox eventually returned to acting, which had a lot of people excited about a certain reunion…

His Books Have Given Hope To Those In His Position

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Ever since becoming sober, Michael J. Fox has maintained an optimistic outlook despite the toll that Parkinson’s takes on his life. He has written best-selling memoirs — Lucky Man: A Memoir and Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist — that have given others a sense of hope.

“It was actually his books that got me out of the first two years. I didn’t plan for the future. I did nothing… But reading the books, like, there was a level of ferocious positivity and fierce optimism that got my fire lit again,” said Jennilynn, a person with Parkinson’s who was interviewed by CBS.

Michael J. Fox Returned To Acting And It Was As If He Never Left

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Though he left Spin City to focus on his battle with Parkinson’s, that was definitely not Michael J. Fox’s retirement from acting. He returned to television for the first time in 2004 with a two-episode arc on Scrubs where he played a doctor with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In 2009, he guest starred in five episodes of Rescue Me, for which he won an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. The following year, he took on a recurring role on The Good Wife as attorney Louis Canning, for which he earned his 18th Emmy nomination in his entire career.

But Back To The Future Will Stay In The Past

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Michael J. Fox would return to his past in September 2018 with a Back to the Future reunion. He along with Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, and Tom Wilson would appear at the Fan Expo Canada, where other casts from popular movies were expected to appear.

One thing fans should not expect, however, is another Back to the Future movie. That same year, director Robert Zemeckis squashed any rumors that there would be, telling Bad Taste, “There will never ever be, in the most absolute way, a Back to the Future 4. There will be no more Back To The Future.”

He’s Proud To Be Canadian And American

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Michael J. Fox is a champion for his cause, but also stands up to the plate when it matters most. In 2017, he boycotted the Oscars by appearing at a rally for immigration rights following President Trump’s travel ban. He told CBC News that he felt “stupid” that he complained about how long it took to become a U.S. citizen himself.

” I compared it to the experience of refugees that are coming to the States, and they have an infinitely more horrific journey to that first step towards citizenship… My reference for everything is my Canadian background, my life in Canada. Particularly on this issue of refugee immigration: I couldn’t be prouder of Canada.”