At 61, Michael J. Fox has spent more than half of his life living with Parkinson’s disease, which he was diagnosed with in 1991. That, he notes in a new interview with Jane Pauley for CBS Sunday Morning, is something of an anomaly.
“There’s not many of us that have had the disease for 30 years,” the Back to the Future star tells Pauley. Fox considers himself lucky to an extent, given the advantages his life as an actor and activist has provided him. “My life is set up so I can pack Parkinson’s along with me if I have to,” he explains.
“For some families, some people it’s a nightmare, it’s a living hell,” Fox adds. “You have to deal with realities that are beyond most people’s understandings.”
For Fox, those realities include not just slurred speech, tremors and muscle stiffness; the progressive disorder has also made him prone to falls and broken bones. The Spin City star says having spinal surgery for a benign tumor “messed up my wiring.” Since then, he’s broken both arms, an elbow, his hand and even his face.
“[Falling] is a big killer with Parkinson’s — falling and aspirating food and getting pneumonia,” he says. “All these subtle ways that get you. You don’t die from Parkinson’s, you die with Parkinson’s. I’m not gonna be 80. I’m not gonna be 80.”
Fox — who shares four children with his wife of nearly 35 years, actress and former Family Ties co-star Tracy Pollan — speaks plainly about the toll the disease has taken.
“It sucks. It sucks having Parkinson’s,” he tells Pauley. And it’s getting worse.
“I’m not gonna lie … it’s gettin’ harder. It’s gettin’ tougher. Every day it’s tougher. But that’s the way it is. I mean, you know, who do I see about that?” he says.
But Fox is also counting his blessings, which include the family he and Pollan have built, his fame (“I’m really good in this!” he told his wife after recently watching Back to the Future for the first time ins more than three decades) and his work fundraising medical breakthroughs which he’s confident will help diagnose and treat Parkinson’s within a matter of years.
“It’s a gift that keeps on taking, but it’s a gift,” Fox says of his own experience with the disease, which is documented in the new documentary Still. A clip from the film shows him falling down on the sidewalk, but the actor keeps his humor in the moment, telling a bystander that she “knocked me off my feet.”
“I recognize how hard it is for people, and I recognize how hard it is for me, but I have a certain set of skills that allow me to deal with this stuff, and I realize that with gratitude, optimism is sustainable,” he says. “If you can find something to be grateful for, then you find something to look forward to, and you carry on.”