Michael J. Fox, actor, author, producer, activist
‘Jenius’ speaks: Michael J. Fox stars in possibilities
Don’t play the results. Play the possibilities.
“You might think you know where the scene is going,” said Michael J. Fox, a man whose career trajectory hasn’t exactly been by the book, in Friday’s Forum keynote address, “but you really don’t.”
They’re words of wisdom that can apply to acting, life and business.
And as for thinking big, well, not quite — at least not early on. His grand ambition was to be a Hollywood sidekick, the No. 2 man. “I dropped out of high school despite the fact my drama teacher said that was a big mistake — I wouldn’t be cute forever. But my dad drove me down from Ontario. He said if I wanted to be an ax man, he would have driven me to the forest, and if I wanted to be an actor, he would drive me to Hollywood.”
In California, he spent his time like most young actors — broke, going out on auditions and ducking the landlord. Then the big break came: a new series called Family Ties. The studio head advised against giving him the part of Alex P. Keaton because he couldn’t see Fox’s face on a lunchbox. But the director prevailed and his big break came. While the suits were negotiating his six-figure salary, he was merely hoping for $1.99 to buy a chicken and wings combo for lunch.
And for a while, the hits, like Back to the Future, just kept coming. Until one. He was diagnosed at age 29 with early-onset Parkinson’s disease — which meant his life felt like a bus was waiting to hit at any moment. “Here, I really didn’t want to play the result — I wanted to play the possibilities.”
Years later, he calls Parkinson’s the gift that keeps on taking — but he may one-up it with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which to date has raised more than $300 million to speed progress in Parkinson’s therapeutic development. He is big on what he calls disruptive philanthropy — “swinging the sledgehammer” and doing his part to speed up the drug approval process.
Oh. And for those of you who are curious as to what the “J” in Michael J. Fox stands for — he told us. It’s Jenius. Pure genius.
When he was 18, Michael J. Fox moved to Los Angeles from Canada and had a series of bit parts before winning the role of Alex P. Keaton on NBC’s Family Ties (1982–89). During Fox’s seven years on Ties, he earned three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award. Fox returned to series television in 1996 with ABC’s Spin City. He won critical praise, garnering three Golden Globe Awards, one Emmy Award, three Emmy nominations, a GQ Man-of-the-Year Award, a People’s Choice Award and two SAG Awards. Fox also became an international film star, appearing in more than a dozen features. These include the Back to the Future trilogy, Doc Hollywood, Teen Wolf and Mars Attacks! Fox also is the best-selling author of three books: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist and the 2002 memoir Lucky Man. Fox was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease in 1991. Upon disclosing his condition in 1998, he committed himself to the campaign for increased Parkinson’s research. While he maintains a strong commitment to his acting and writing careers, Fox has shifted his primary focus and energies toward The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which he launched in 2000, and its efforts to raise much-needed research funding and awareness for Parkinson’s disease.