Michael J. Fox

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Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox 2012 (cropped) (2).jpg
Michael J. Fox in 2012
BornMichael Andrew Fox
(1961-06-09) June 9, 1961 (age 53)
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
CitizenshipCanadian and American (dual)
OccupationActor, author, producer, activist
Years active1973–present
Spouse(s)Tracy Pollan (m. 1988)
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Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox 2012 (cropped) (2).jpg
Michael J. Fox in 2012
BornMichael Andrew Fox
(1961-06-09) June 9, 1961 (age 53)
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
CitizenshipCanadian and American (dual)
OccupationActor, author, producer, activist
Years active1973–present
Spouse(s)Tracy Pollan (m. 1988)

Michael J. Fox, OC (born Michael Andrew Fox; June 9, 1961) is a Canadian-American[1] actor, author, producer, and advocate. With a film and television career spanning from the 1970s, Fox's roles have included Marty McFly from the Back to the Future trilogy (1985–1990); Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties (1982–1989), for which he won three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award; and Mike Flaherty in Spin City (1996–2001), for which he won an Emmy, three Golden Globes, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1991 and disclosed his condition to the public in 1998. Fox semi-retired from acting in 2000 as the symptoms of his disease worsened. He has since become an advocate for research toward finding a cure; he created the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and on March 5, 2010, Sweden's Karolinska Institutet gave him a honoris causa doctorate for his work in advocating a cure for Parkinson's disease.[2]

Since 2001, Fox has mainly worked as a voice-over actor in films such as Stuart Little and Atlantis: The lost Empire, and taken recurring guest roles and cameo appearances in TV shows such as Boston Legal, The Good Wife, Scrubs, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Rescue Me. He has released three books: Lucky Man: A Memoir (2002), Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist (2009), and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned (2010). He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2010.[3]

Early life[edit]

Michael Andrew Fox was born on June 9, 1961, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, to Phyllis (Piper), an actress/payroll clerk, and William Fox, a police officer and Canadian Forces member.[4][5] Fox's family lived in various cities and towns across Canada because of his father's career.[4] The family finally moved to the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, British Columbia, when his father retired in 1971. His father died on January 6, 1990, from a heart attack.[6] Fox attended Burnaby Central Secondary School, and now has a theatre named for him in Burnaby South Secondary.[7]

Fox, at age 15, starred in the Canadian television series Leo and Me produced by the CBC, and in 1979, at age 18, he moved to Los Angeles to further his acting career. Shortly after his marriage, he decided to move back to Vancouver.[4] Fox is one of four members of the Leo and Me cast and crew who eventually developed Parkinson's disease in mid-life, an unusually high number that led to some investigation as to whether an environmental factor may have played a role.[8][9][10]

Fox was discovered by producer Ronald Shedlo and made his American television debut in the television film Letters from Frank, credited under the name "Michael Fox". He intended to continue to use the name, but when he registered with the Screen Actors Guild, which requires unique registration names to avoid credit ambiguities, he discovered that Michael Fox, a veteran character actor, was already registered under the name.[4] As he explained in his autobiography, Lucky Man: A Memoir and in interviews, he needed to come up with a different name. He did not like the sound of "Andrew" or "Andy," so he decided to adopt a new middle initial and settled on "J", as a homage to actor Michael J. Pollard.[6]

Acting career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Michael J. Fox with Tracy Pollan at the 40th Emmy Awards[11] in August 1988 shortly after they were married

Fox's first feature film roles were Midnight Madness (1980) and Class of 1984 (1982), credited in both as Michael Fox. Shortly afterward, he began playing "Young Republican" Alex P. Keaton in the show Family Ties which aired on NBC for seven seasons, 1982-89. In an interview with Jimmy Fallon in April 2014, Fox stated he negotiated the role at a payphone at Pioneer Chicken. He received the role only after Matthew Broderick was unavailable.[12] Family Ties had been sold to the television network using the pitch "Hip parents, square kids,"[12] with the parents originally intended to be the main characters. However, the positive reaction to Fox's performance led to his character becoming the focus of the show following the fourth episode.[12] At its peak, the audience for Family Ties drew one-third of America's households every week.[4] Fox won three Emmy awards for Family Ties, in 1986, 1987 and 1988.[13] He also won a Golden Globe Award in 1989.[14]

Brandon Tartikoff, one of the show's producers, felt that Fox was too short in relation to the actors playing his parents, and tried to have him replaced. Tartikoff reportedly said that "this is not the kind of face you'll ever find on a lunch-box." After his later successes, Fox presented Tartikoff with a custom-made lunch-box with the inscription "To Brandon, this is for you to put your crow in. Love and Kisses, Michael J. Fox." Tartikoff kept the lunch-box in his office for the rest of his NBC career.[15]

While filming Family Ties, Fox met his wife, Tracy Pollan, who portrayed his girlfriend, Ellen.[4] When Fox left the TV series Spin City, his final episodes made numerous allusions to Family Ties: Michael Gross (who played Alex's father Steven) portrays Mike Flaherty's (Fox's) therapist,[16] and there is a reference to an off-screen character named "Mallory".[17] Also, when Flaherty becomes an environmental lobbyist in Washington, D.C., he meets a conservative senator from Ohio named Alex P. Keaton, and in one episode Meredith Baxter played Mike's mother.

In 1980, Fox auditioned for the role of Conrad Jarrett in the Academy Award winning film Ordinary People.

Film career[edit]

Michael J. Fox at the 40th Emmy Awards, August 1988.

In January 1985 Fox was cast to replace Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly, a teenager who is accidentally sent back in time from 1985 to 1955 in Back to the Future. Robert Zemeckis, the director, originally wanted Fox to play Marty, but Gary David Goldberg the creator of Family Ties, which Fox was working on at the time, refused to allow Zemeckis even to approach Fox as he felt that as Meredith Baxter was on maternity leave at the time, Fox's character Alex Keaton was needed to carry the show in her absence. Eric Stoltz was cast and was already filming Back to the Future, but Zemeckis felt that Stoltz was not giving the right type of performance for the humor involved.[18] Zemeckis quickly replaced Stoltz with Fox whose schedule was now more open with the return of Meredith Baxter. He was considered for the role of Mark Kendall in Once Bitten, but it eventually went to Jim Carrey. During filming, Fox would rehearse for Family Ties from 10 a.m to 6 p.m, then rush to the Back to the Future set where he would rehearse and shoot until 2:30 a.m. This schedule lasted for two full months. Back to the Future was both a commercial and critical success. The film spent 8 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.[19] Variety applauded the performances, stating that Fox and his co-star Christopher Lloyd imbued Marty and Doc Brown's friendship with a quality reminiscent of King Arthur and Merlin.[20] The film was later followed by two similarly-successful sequels, Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Back to the Future Part III (1990).

Fox at the 39th Emmy Awards in September 1987.

During and immediately after the Back to the Future trilogy, Fox starred in Teen Wolf (1985), Light of Day (1987), The Secret of My Success (1987), Bright Lights, Big City (1988) and Casualties of War (1989).

In The Secret of My Success, Fox played a recent graduate from Kansas State University who moves to New York City where he has to deal with the downs and ups of the business world. The film was successful at the box office, taking $110 million worldwide.[21] Roger Ebert in The Chicago Sun Times wrote; "Fox provides a fairly desperate center for the film. It could not have been much fun for him to follow the movie's arbitrary shifts of mood, from sitcom to slapstick, from sex farce to boardroom brawls."[22]

In Bright Lights, Big City, Fox played a fact-checker for a New York magazine, who spends his nights partying with alcohol and drugs. The film received mixed reviews, with Hal Hinson in The Washington Post criticizing Fox by claiming that "he was the wrong actor for the job".[23] Meanwhile Roger Ebert praised the actor's performance: "Fox is very good in the central role (he has a long drunken monologue that is the best thing he has ever done in a movie)".[24] During the shooting of Bright Lights, Big City, Michael was reunited with his on-screen girlfriend Tracy Pollan from Family Ties.

Fox then starred in Casualties of War, a war drama about the Vietnam War, alongside Sean Penn. Casualties of War was not a box office hit, but Fox, playing a private serving in Vietnam, received good reviews for his performance. Don Willmott on film critic’s website wrote; "Fox, only one year beyond his Family Ties sitcom silliness, rises to the challenges of acting as the film's moral voice and sharing scenes with the always intimidating Penn."[25]

In 1991, he starred in Doc Hollywood, a romantic comedy about a talented medical doctor who decides to become a plastic surgeon. While moving from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, California, he winds up as a doctor in a small southern town in South Carolina. Michael Caton-Jones, from Time Out, described Fox in the film as "at his frenetic best".[26] The Hard Way was also released in 1991, with Fox playing an undercover actor learning from police officer James Woods. Between 1992 and 1996, he continued making several films, such as For Love or Money (1993), Life With Mikey (1993) and Greedy (1994). Fox then played small supporting roles in political drama The American President (1995) and comedy Mars Attacks! (1996).[4]

His last major film role was in The Frighteners (1996), directed by Peter Jackson. The Frighteners tells the story of Frank Bannister (Fox), an architect who develops psychic abilities allowing him to see, hear, and communicate with ghosts. After losing his wife, he uses his new abilities by cheating customers out of money for his "ghost hunting" business. However, a mass murderer comes back from Hell, prompting Frank to investigate the supernatural presence. Fox's performance received critical praise, Kenneth Turan in The Los Angeles Times wrote; "The film's actors are equally pleasing. Both Fox, in his most successful starring role in some time, and [Trini] Alvarado, who looks rather like Andie MacDowell here, have no difficulty getting into the manic spirit of things."[27]

He voiced the American Bulldog Chance in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey and its sequel Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco, the titular character in Stuart Little and its two sequels Stuart Little 2 and Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild and Milo Thatch in Atlantis: The Lost Empire.[28]

Later career[edit]

Hand prints of Fox in front of The Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park.

Spin City ran from 1996 to 2002 on American television network ABC. The show was based on a fictional local government running New York City, originally starring Fox as Mike Flaherty, a Fordham Law School graduate serving as the Deputy Mayor of New York.[4] Fox won an Emmy award for Spin City in 2000,[13] three Golden Globe Awards in 1998, 1999 and 2000[14] and two Screen Actors Guild Awards in 1999 and 2000.[29] During the third season of Spin City, Fox made the announcement to the cast and crew of the show that he had Parkinson's disease. During the fourth season, he announced his retirement from the show to focus on spending more time with his family.[30] He announced that he planned to continue to act and would make guest appearances on Spin City (he made three more appearances on the show during the final season). After leaving the show, he was replaced by Charlie Sheen, who portrayed the character Charlie Crawford.[31] Altogether, 145 episodes were produced. Fox also served as an executive producer during his time on the show, alongside co-creators Bill Lawrence and Gary David Goldberg.[31]

In 2004, Fox guest starred in two episodes of the comedy-drama Scrubs as Dr. Kevin Casey, a surgeon with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.[32] The series was created by Spin City creator Bill Lawrence.[32] In 2006, he appeared in four episodes of Boston Legal as a lung cancer patient. The producers brought him back in a recurring role for Season three, beginning with the season premiere. Fox was nominated for an Emmy Award for best guest appearance.[13]

In 2009, he appeared in five episodes of the television series Rescue Me which earned him an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series.[13] Since 2000 Fox has released three books, Lucky Man: A Memoir (2002), Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist (2009) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned (2010). In 2010, Fox returned to television as a guest star in the US drama The Good Wife and has since appeared in seven more episodes as rival attorney Louis Canning.[33] In 2011, Fox was featured as himself in the eighth season of the Larry David vehicle, Curb Your Enthusiasm. David's character (also himself) becomes a temporary resident of the New York City apartment building that Fox resides in and a conflict arises between the two, whereby David believes that Fox is using his condition (Parkinson's disease) as a manipulative tool.[34][35] On August 20, 2012, NBC announced The Michael J. Fox Show, loosely based on his life. It was granted a 22-episode commitment from the network and premiered on NBC on September 26, 2013.[36]

Fox also made several appearances in other media. At the 2010 Winter Olympics closing ceremony in Vancouver, Canada, he delivered comedy monologues, along with William Shatner and Catherine O'Hara, in the "I am Canadian" part of the show.[37] Along with Tatjana Patitz, Fox appears in the 2011 Carl Zeiss AG calendar, photographed by Bryan Adams in New York City in the summer of 2010.[38] Despite a sound-alike, A.J Locascio, voicing his character of Marty McFly in the 2011 Back to the Future episodic adventure game, Fox lent his likeness to the in-game version of Marty alongside Christopher Lloyd. Fox made a special guest appearance in the final episode of the series as an elder version of Marty, as well as his great-grandfather Willie McFly.[39][40]

Personal life[edit]

The Michael J. Fox Theatre at Burnaby South Secondary School in Burnaby

Fox married actress Tracy Pollan on July 16, 1988, at West Mountain Inn in Arlington, Vermont.[41] The couple have four children: Sam Michael (born May 30, 1989),[42] twins Aquinnah Kathleen and Schuyler Frances (born February 15, 1995),[43] and Esmé Annabelle (born November 3, 2001).[44] Fox holds dual Canadian-U.S. citizenship.[45] On February 28, 2010, Fox provided a light-hearted segment during the 2010 Winter Olympics' closing ceremony in Vancouver, British Columbia, wherein he expressed how proud he is to be Canadian.[37] On June 4, 2010, the city of Burnaby, British Columbia, honoured Fox by granting him the Freedom of the City.[7]

Illness and activism[edit]

Fox started displaying symptoms of early-onset Parkinson's disease in 1991 while shooting the movie Doc Hollywood, although he was not properly diagnosed until the next year.[30] After his diagnosis, Fox began drinking more heavily than in the past; however, he sought help and stopped drinking altogether.[46] In 1998, he decided to go public with his condition, and since then he has been a strong advocate of Parkinson's disease research.[4] His foundation, The Michael J. Fox Foundation, was created to help advance every promising research path to curing Parkinson's disease, including embryonic stem cell studies.[4]

Fox manages the symptoms of his Parkinson's disease with the drug Sinemet,[47] and he also had a thalamotomy in 1998.[48]

His first book, Lucky Man, focused on how, after seven years of denial of the disease, he set up the Michael J Fox Foundation, stopped drinking and began to be an advocate for Parkinson's disease sufferers.[49]

In Lucky Man, Fox wrote that he did not take his medication prior to his testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee in 1999 (full C-Span video clip);[50]

I had made a deliberate choice to appear before the subcommittee without medication. It seemed to me that this occasion demanded that my testimony about the effects of the disease, and the urgency we as a community were feeling, be seen as well as heard. For people who had never observed me in this kind of shape, the transformation must have been startling

Michael J. Fox, Lucky Man[51]

In an interview with NPR in April 2002,[47] Fox explained what he does when he becomes symptomatic during an interview;

Well, actually, I've been erring on the side of caution—I think "erring" is actually the right word—in that I've been medicating perhaps too much, in the sense [that] ... the symptoms ... people see in some of these interviews that [I] have been on are actually dyskinesia, which is a reaction to the medication. Because if I were purely symptomatic with Parkinson's symptoms, a lot of times speaking is difficult. There's a kind of a cluttering of speech and it's very difficult to sit still, to sit in one place. You know, the symptoms are different, so I'd rather kind of suffer the symptoms of dyskinesia... this kind of weaving and this kind of continuous thing is much preferable, actually, than pure Parkinson's symptoms. So that's what I generally do... I haven't had any, you know, problems with pure Parkinson's symptoms in any of these interviews, because I'll tend to just make sure that I have enough Sinemet in my system and, in some cases, too much. But to me, it's preferable. It's not representative of what I'm like in my everyday life. I get a lot of people with Parkinson's coming up to me saying, "You take too much medication." I say, Well, you sit across from Larry King and see if you want to tempt it.

Interview, April 30, 2002, Fresh Air, NPR

In 2006, Fox starred in a campaign ad for then State Auditor of Missouri Claire McCaskill (D) in her 2006 Senate campaign against incumbent Jim Talent (R), expressing her support for stem cell research. In the ad, he visibly showed the effects of his Parkinson's disease;

As you might know, I care deeply about stem cell research. In Missouri, you can elect Claire McCaskill, who shares my hope for cures. Unfortunately, Senator Jim Talent opposes expanding stem cell research. Senator Talent even wanted to criminalize the science that gives us the chance for hope. They say all politics is local, but that's not always the case. What you do in Missouri matters to millions of Americans, Americans like me.

Michael J. Fox, Campaign Advertisement for Claire McCaskill[52][53]

The New York Times called it "one of the most powerful and talked about political advertisements in years" and polls indicated that the commercial had a measurable impact on the way voters voted, in an election that McCaskill won.[54] His second book, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, describes his life between 1999 and 2009, with much of the book centered on how Fox got into campaigning for stem-cell research.[49] On March 31, 2009, Fox appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show with Dr. Oz to publicly discuss his condition as well as his book, his family and his prime-time special which aired May 7, 2009 (Michael J. Fox: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist).[55]

His work led him to be named one of the 100 people "whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world" in 2007 by Time magazine.[56] On March 5, 2010, Fox received an honorary doctorate in medicine from Karolinska Institutet for his contributions to research in Parkinson's disease.[57] He has also received an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of British Columbia.[58]

On May 31, 2012, he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the Justice Institute of British Columbia[59] to recognize his accomplishments as a performer as well as his commitment to raising research funding and awareness for Parkinson's disease. Fox recalled performing in role-playing simulations as part of police recruit training exercises at the Institute early in his career.



1980Midnight MadnessScott Larson
1982Class of 1984Arthur
1985Back to the FutureMarty McFly
Teen WolfScott Howard
1987Light of DayJoe Rasnick
The Secret of My SuccessBrantley Foster / Carlton Whitfield
1988Bright Lights, Big CityJamie Conway
1989Casualties of WarPFC. Eriksson
Back to the Future Part IIMarty McFly / Marty McFly Jr / Marlene McFly
1990Back to the Future Part IIIMarty McFly / Seamus McFly
1991Doc HollywoodDr. Benjamin Stone
1993Homeward Bound: The Incredible JourneyChanceVoice only
Life with MikeyMichael "Mikey" Chapman
For Love or Money (a.k.a The Concierge)Doug Ireland
1994Where the Rivers Flow NorthClayton Farnsworth
GreedyDaniel McTeague
1995The American PresidentLewis Rothschild
1996Homeward Bound II: Lost in San FranciscoChanceVoice only
1996Mars Attacks!Jason Stone
1999Stuart LittleStuart LittleVoice only
2001Atlantis: The Lost EmpireMilo James ThatchVoice only
2002Stuart Little 2Stuart LittleVoice only
2006Stuart Little 3: Call of the WildStuart LittleVoice only
2009The Magic 7Marcel MaggotVoice only (Television film) (Voice recorded in early 1990s)
2014AnnieHimselfCameo Appearance
1977The Magic LieEpisode: "The Master"
1979Letters from FrankRickyCBS television film
Lou GrantPaul StoneEpisode: "Kids"
1980–1981Palmerstown, U.S.A.Willy - Joe Hall11 episodes
1980FamilyRichard TopolEpisode: "Such a Fine Line"
Trouble in High Timber CountryThomas ElstonABC television film
1981Trapper John, M.D.Elliot SchweitzerEpisode: "Brain Child"
Leo and MeJamieProduced in 1976; was not televised on CBC, until 1981
Credited as "Mike Fox"
1982–1989Family TiesAlex P. KeatonLead Role (176 episodes)
1983The Love BoatEpisode: "I Like to Be in America..."
High School U.S.A.Jay - Jay MannersNBC television film / Pilot
1984Night CourtEddie SimmsEpisode: "Santa Goes Downtown"
The Homemade Comedy SpecialHostNBC television special
1985Poison IvyDennis BaxterNBC television film
1986David Letterman's 2nd Annual Holiday Film FestivalNBC television special
Segment: "The Iceman Hummeth"
1988Mickey's 60th BirthdayAlex P. Keaton (flashback clip)Television special
1990Sex, Buys, & AdvertisingTelevision special
1991Saturday Night LiveHostEpisode: "Michael J. Fox / The Black Crowes"
Tales from the CryptProsecutorEpisode: "The Trap"
1994Don't Drink the WaterAxel MageeABC television film
1996–2001Spin CityMike FlahertyLead Role (103 episodes)
1997The Chris Rock ShowHimselfEpisode: "Jesse Jackson/Rakim" (uncredited)
2002Clone HighGandhi's Remaining KidneyVoice only
Episode: "Escape to Beer Mountain: A Rope of Sand"
2004ScrubsDr. Kevin CaseyEpisodes: "My Catalyst",
"My Porcelain God"
2006Boston LegalDaniel Post6 episodes
2009Rescue MeDwight5 episodes
2010–PresentThe Good WifeLouis Canning16 episodes
2011Ace of CakesHimself
Curb Your EnthusiasmHimselfEpisode: "Larry vs. Michael J. Fox"
Phineas and FerbMichaelVoice only
Episode: "The Curse of Candace"
2013–2014The Michael J. Fox ShowMike HenryLead Role

Video games[edit]

2011Back to the Future: The GameWillie McFly
Future Marty McFly
Episode 5: "Outatime"


1996–2000Spin CityExecutive producer
1999Anna SaysExecutive producer
2002Otherwise EngagedExecutive producer
2003Hench at HomeExecutive producer
2013–2014The Michael J. Fox ShowExecutive producer

Awards and nominations[edit]

Fox was honored and received the 2,209th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on December 16, 2002.[60]

Canada's Walk of Fame

Double Helix Medal

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Goldene Kamera

Grammy Awards[65]

Influential Canadian Expat Award

Honorary Degrees

Golden Globe Awards[14]

Primetime Emmy Awards[13]

People's Choice Awards

Satellite Awards

Saturn Awards

Screen Actors Guild Awards[29]



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  38. ^ Camera Lens News - Carl Zeiss
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