There were few celebrities bigger in the 1980’s than Michael J. Fox. The Canadian-born actor became a household name thanks to starring roles in a top ten TV show (Family Ties) and the biggest movie of 1985 (Back to the Future).
While his pop culture image will always be tied to Alex P. Keaton and Marty McFly, Fox became an icon himself when he revealed his fight against Parkinson’s disease.
Diagnosed in the early 1990’s, Fox went public with his battle in 1998 and has since become an advocate for research of the debilitating disease, which attacks the body’s central nervous system, severely affecting motor skills.
In 2000, Fox established The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research
According to the website for the New York City-based nonprofit organization, the foundation is “dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease through an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson’s today.”
The 2015 annual financial report revealed $87.8 million in funding to research programs and since it’s inception 16 years ago, $650 million have gone toward finding quickly a cure. The biggest impact the foundation has on society isn’t through finances but through the actions of it’s namesake.
Nearly three decades into his battle, Fox physically shows signs of his daily struggle but his spirit and enthusiasm are as strong as ever.
Not only does he continue to act (most recently in a recurring role on The Good Wife), but he’s regularly seen out and about in NYC (he was recently spotted at a New York Rangers game), and he can still strum a guitar.
The 55-year-old riffed on stage twice in 2016, most recently during his annual benefit event, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson’s: An Evening of Comedy & Music to Benefit The Michael J. Fox Foundation.”
Fox jammed with Dave Matthews Band during the event, which raised $5.7 million for research.
“It’s something we’ve been doing since the beginning, having this gala, and it’s grown in amazing ways with the amount of people in the greater Parkinson’s community — and outside of it — who come out and support us,” Fox said before the event, which was held at Waldorf Astoria in New York City. “It’s humbling every year.”
In July, he accompanied Coldplay during the band’s stop in New Jersey, channeling Marty McFly with a rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”
“I was diagnosed 25 years ago, and I was only supposed to work for another 10 years,” Fox recently told Haute Living in November, 2016.
“I was supposed to be pretty much disabled by now. I’m far from it. This is as bad as I get, and I can still go to the store and go marketing.”
Stem Cell Research
During his battle with Parkinson’s, Fox became a strong advocate for stem cell research, which he believes will speed up the process of curing the disease. The actor campaigns and supports political candidates who are proponents for funding.
Fox chronicled his fight against Parkinson’s and his advocacy to spread awareness in two books and a 2009 TV special.
In 2007, he was named to the TIME 100 under the label “Heroes & Pioneers.”
Friendship with Muhammad Ali
Before Fox revealed his diagnosis, Muhammad Ali was the celebrity face of Parkinson’s disease. The late-boxer’s appearance and voice slowly deteriorated in the public eye over the course of the last two decades but, much like Fox, his spirit always remained.
Ali and Fox formed a bond after the actor when public with his battle. They would remain friends until the boxer’s death in June of 2016.
“Ali, the G-O-A-T. A giant, an inspiration, a man of peace, a warrior for the cure. Thank you,” Fox tweeted following the news of Ali’s passing.
During their joint fights against Parkinson’s, the two icons appeared alongside one another in PSA’s, fundraisers, and at a Senate subcommittee hearing 2002 to lobby on funding for research.
Ali’s daughter, Yolanda Williams, served on the board of directors of Fox’s foundation and the actor is a supporter of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, KY and the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, AZ.
“He was really committed to finding an answer to this disease, as he was to finding answers to strife in the world and wars and conflict and all kinds of things,” Fox said following Ali’s death. “He was a very complex man and a very special man.”
Order of Canada
Fox also supports other charitable organizations (including Project Sunshine and the SAG-AFTRA Foundation) but it’s his work with his Parkinson’s Foundation that earned him an investment into the Order of Canada.
The nation’s highest civil honor was bestowed upon him in 2011.
“Being Canadian is intrinsic to who I am,” Fox, who shares a dual citizenship with the United States, told CTV.
“To be thought of and recognized as distinctly Canadian is just the highest honor.”
Michael J. Fox’s acting chops earned him a living and fans across the globe but his humanitarian work will be his legacy that lives on long after he’s gone.