Michael J. Fox health: what has Back to the Future star said about Parkinson’s, when was he diagnosed?

Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox has lived with Parkinson’s disease for more than half his life

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Actor Michael J. Fox, known for a string of classic ‘80s movies such as Back to the Future and Teen Wolf, and whose more recent appearances include roles on Designated Survivor and The Good Fight opened up about his experience Parkinson’s disease earlier this year. He explained that when he was first diagnosed who thought that he would have to quit his acting career.

More than three decades after he was first diagnosed, Fox has more than 80 acting credits to his name and was recently involved in a documentary about life with Parkinson's. The star also set up a charitable foundation which has raised millions for research into the disease, about which much is still unknown.

Despite retiring recently, Fox was involved in the making of a documentary about his life, and spoke candidly in it about what it is like to live with Parkinson’s disease, the toll it took on his mental health, and how he spent years in denial.

Who is Michael J. Fox?

Michael J. Fox is a 61-year-old Canadian-American actor best known for playing Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy alongside Christopher Lloyd. His other screen roles include playing Alex P. Keaton in comedy series Family Ties, Mike Flaherty in Spin City, and Ethan West in five episodes of Designated Survivor.

Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was 29Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was 29
Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was 29

His other film credits include playing Jason Stone in Mars Attacks! and Scott Howard in Teen Wolf, voicing Stuart Little in the movie trilogy of the same name. Recently he appeared in a documentary about his own life and health struggles.

Fox married his Family Ties co-star Tracy Pollan in 1988 - the couple have four children, son Sam, twin daughters Aquinnah and Schuyler, and another daughter, Esmé.

When was Michael J. Fox diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease?

Fox began showing symptoms of early-onset Parkinson’s disease in 1991 while shooting the comedy film Doc Hollywood, and was diagnosed soon after when he was 29 years old. The average age of those who develop Parkinson’s disease is 60.

Fox’s initial symptoms were pain in one shoulder and twitching in one finger - he was advised that he would have to stop working in a few years although he continued to appear in films and TV shows until 2020, when he officially retired.

He went public with his diagnosis in 1998 and became a strong advocate for Parkinson’s disease research, launching the Michael J. Fox Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to finding a cure.

After being diagnosed, Fox turned to alcohol and drugs to cope, before going sober several years later. His foundation has so far raised more than $1.5 billion in high-impact research programs.

Michael J. Fox at the premiere of his documentaryMichael J. Fox at the premiere of his documentary
Michael J. Fox at the premiere of his documentary

What has Michael J. Fox said about having Parkinson’s?

Speaking at the premiere of his new documentary Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, he joked the film was “A festival of self-abuse. You get Parkinson’s, you trip over stuff.”

In the documentary the actor discusses how he was in denial of his diagnosis for seven years and turned to drugs to cope. He said: “Therapeutic value, comfort, none of these were the reason I took these pills. There was only one reason: to hide.

“I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know what was coming. So what if I could just have four glasses of wine and maybe a shot? I was definitely an alcoholic. But I’ve gone 30 years without having a drink.”

He added: "You can’t pretend at home that you don’t have Parkinson’s because you’re just there with it. If I’m out in the world, I’m dealing with other people and they don’t know I have it."

He later spoke about the illness in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, he said: "“It’s getting tougher, it’s getting harder, every day you suffer but that’s the way it is. All these subtle ways that get you, you don’t die from Parkinson’s, you die with [the condition]. I’m not going to be 80. I won’t be 80.”

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a condition where the brain becomes damaged over a period of years, affecting movement, speech and communication. The main symptoms of Parkinson’s include tremors, slow movement, and stiff and inflexible muscles.

Other problems caused by Parkinson’s include memory loss, loss of balance, and a greater risk of depression and anxiety. Due to advances in medicine, people living with Parkinson’s have a near normal life expectancy. It is estimated that it reduces life expectancy by 1-2 years.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Story will be available to watch on Apple TV+ in the UK soon