Michael J. Fox

Michael J. Fox

Fox at the Lotusphere in 2012
Born Michael Andrew Fox
(1961-06-09) June 9, 1961
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Residence Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Citizenship Canadian and American (dual)
Occupation Actor, author, producer, activist
Years active 1973–present
Spouse(s) Tracy Pollan (m. 1988)
Children 4

Michael Andrew Fox, OC (born June 9, 1961), known as Michael J. Fox, is a Canadian-American[1] actor, author, producer, and activist. With a film and television career spanning from the 1970s, Fox is best known for such roles as Mike Flaherty on the ABC sitcom Spin City (1996–2000), for which he won an Emmy, three Golden Globes, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards. Other notable roles have included Marty McFly from the Back to the Future trilogy (1985–1990); and Alex P. Keaton from NBC's Family Ties (1982–1989), for which he won three Emmys and a Golden Globe.

Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1991, at age 29, 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 Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire. On the CBS TV show The Good Wife, he earned Emmy nominations for three consecutive years for his recurring role as crafty attorney Louis Canning.[3] Fox has also taken recurring guest roles and cameo appearances in Boston Legal, 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.[4] He also was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame in 2000.[5]

Early life

Fox was born on June 9, 1961, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, to Phyllis (née Piper), an actress/payroll clerk, and William Fox, a police officer and Canadian Forces member.[6][7]

Fox's family lived in various cities and towns across Canada because of his father's career.[6] 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.[8] Fox attended Burnaby Central Secondary School, and now has a theatre named for him in Burnaby South Secondary.[9] 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.[6] 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.[10][11][12]

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.[6] 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 "Michael A. Fox" during a time when "fox" was coming to mean "attractive" and because his middle initial sounded too much like the Canadian "eh?" He also didn't like the sound of "Andrew" or "Andy," so he decided to adopt a new middle initial and settled on "J", as an homage to actor Michael J. Pollard.[8]

Acting career

Early career

Fox with Tracy Pollan at the 40th Emmy Awards[13] 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.[14] Family Ties had been sold to the television network using the pitch "Hip parents, square kids,"[14] 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.[14] At its peak, the audience for Family Ties drew one-third of America's households every week.[6] Fox won three Emmy awards for Family Ties, in 1986, 1987 and 1988.[15] He also won a Golden Globe Award in 1989.[16]

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.[17]

While filming Family Ties, Fox met his wife, Tracy Pollan, who portrayed his girlfriend, Ellen.[6] 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,[18] and there is a reference to an off-screen character named "Mallory".[19] 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.

As a consequence of working in Family Ties, as well as his acting in Teen Wolf and Back to the Future, Fox became a teen idol, VH1's show The Greatest later naming him among their "50 Greatest Teen Idols."[20]

Film career

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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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 ups and downs of the business world. The film was successful at the box office, grossing $110 million worldwide.[24] 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."[25]

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".[26] 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)".[27] During the shooting of Bright Lights, Big City, Fox co-starred again with Tracy Pollan, his on-screen girlfriend from Family Ties.

Fox then starred in Casualties of War, a dark and violent war drama about the Vietnam War, alongside Sean Penn. Casualties of War was not a major 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."[28]

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, 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".[29] The Hard Way was also released in 1991, with Fox playing an undercover actor learning from police officer James Woods. After being privately diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1991 and being cautioned he had "ten good working years left," Fox hastily signed a three-film contract, appearing in For Love or Money (1993), Life With Mikey (1993) and Greedy (1994). The mid-1990s saw Fox play smaller supporting roles in The American President (1995) and Mars Attacks! (1996).[6]

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."[30]

He voiced the American Bulldog Chance in Disney's live-action film 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 Disney's animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire.[31]

Later career

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.[6] Fox won an Emmy award for Spin City in 2000,[15] three Golden Globe Awards in 1998, 1999 and 2000[16] and two Screen Actors Guild Awards in 1999 and 2000.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] 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.[34]

In 2004, Fox guest starred in two episodes of the comedy-drama Scrubs as Dr. Kevin Casey, a surgeon with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.[35] The series was created by Spin City creator Bill Lawrence.[35] 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.[15]

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.[15] 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). Starting in 2010, Fox played a recurring role in the US drama The Good Wife as crafty attorney Louis Canning and earned Emmy nominations for three consecutive years.[3] 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.[36][37] 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.[38]

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.[39] 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.[40][41] 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.[42][43]

Personal life

Fox at the Theatre Burnaby South Secondary School in Burnaby

Fox married actress Tracy Pollan on July 16, 1988, at West Mountain Inn in Arlington, Vermont.[44] The couple have four children: son Sam Michael (born May 30, 1989),[45] twin daughters Aquinnah Kathleen and Schuyler Frances (born February 15, 1995),[46] and daughter Esmé Annabelle (born November 3, 2001).[47] Fox holds dual Canadian-US citizenship.[48] 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.[39] On June 4, 2010, the city of Burnaby, British Columbia, honoured Fox by granting him the Freedom of the City.[9] Fox and his family reside in Manhattan, New York.[49]

Health and activism

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.[33] After his diagnosis, Fox began drinking more heavily than in the past; however, he sought help and stopped drinking altogether.[50] In 1998, he decided to go public with his condition, and since then he has been a strong advocate of Parkinson's disease research.[6] 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.[6]

Fox manages the symptoms of his Parkinson's disease with the drug carbidopa/levodopa,[51] and he also had a thalamotomy in 1998.[52]

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 people living with Parkinson's disease.[53]

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);[54]

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[55]

In an interview with NPR in April 2002,[51] 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 successful 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[56][57]

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.[58] His second book, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, describes his life between 1999 and 2009, with much of the book centred on how Fox got into campaigning for stem-cell research.[53] 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).[59]

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.[60] On March 5, 2010, Fox received an honorary doctorate in medicine from Karolinska Institutet for his contributions to research in Parkinson's disease.[61] He has also received an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of British Columbia.[62]

On May 31, 2012, he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the Justice Institute of British Columbia[63] 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.

In 2016, his organization the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research created a raffle to raise awareness for Parkinson's disease and raised $6.75 million, with the help of Nike via two auctions, one in Hong Kong and the other in London.[64]



Year Film Role Notes
1980 Midnight Madness Scott Larson
1982 Class of 1984 Arthur
1985 Back to the Future Marty McFly
Teen Wolf Scott Howard
1987 Light of Day Joe Rasnick
The Secret of My Success Brantley Foster / Carlton Whitfield
1988 Bright Lights, Big City Jamie Conway
1989 Casualties of War PFC. Eriksson
Back to the Future Part II Marty McFly / Marty McFly Jr / Marlene McFly
1990 Back to the Future Part III Marty McFly / Seamus McFly
1991 Doc Hollywood Dr. Benjamin Stone
The Hard Way Nick Lang / Ray Casanov
1993 Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey Chance Voice only
Life with Mikey Michael "Mikey" Chapman
For Love or Money Doug Ireland
1994 Where the Rivers Flow North Clayton Farnsworth
Greedy Daniel McTeague
1995 The American President Lewis Rothschild
1996 Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco Chance Voice only
The Frighteners Frank Bannister
Mars Attacks! Jason Stone
1999 Stuart Little Stuart Little Voice only
2001 Atlantis: The Lost Empire Milo James Thatch Voice only
2002 Interstate 60 Mr. Baker
Stuart Little 2 Stuart Little Voice only
2006 Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild Stuart Little Voice only
2009 The Magic 7 Marcel Maggot Voice only
2013 Drew: The Man Behind the Poster Himself Documentary
2014 Annie Himself Cameo appearance
2015 Back in Time Himself Back to the Future documentary[65]
2016 "A.R.C.H.I.E" A.R.C.H.I.E Title role/voice only
Year Title Role Notes
1977 The Magic Lie Episode: "The Master"
1979 Letters from Frank Ricky CBS television film
Lou Grant Paul Stone Episode: "Kids"
1980–1981 Palmerstown, U.S.A. Willy - Joe Hall 11 episodes
1980 Family Richard Topol Episode: "Such a Fine Line"
Trouble in High Timber Country Thomas Elston ABC television film
1981 Trapper John, M.D. Elliot Schweitzer Episode: "Brain Child"
Leo and Me Jamie Produced in 1976; was not televised on CBC, until 1981
Credited as "Mike Fox"
1982–1989 Family Ties Alex P. Keaton Lead role (176 episodes)
1983 The Love Boat Episode: "I Like to Be in America..."
High School U.S.A. Jay - Jay Manners NBC television film / Pilot
1984 Night Court Eddie Simms Episode: "Santa Goes Downtown"
The Homemade Comedy Special Host NBC television special
1985 Poison Ivy Dennis Baxter NBC television film
1986 David Letterman's 2nd Annual Holiday Film Festival NBC television special
Segment: "The Iceman Hummeth"
1988 Mickey's 60th Birthday Alex P. Keaton (flashback clip) Television special
1990 Sex, Buys, & Advertising Television special
1991 Saturday Night Live Host Episode: "Michael J. Fox / The Black Crowes"
Tales from the Crypt Prosecutor Episode: "The Trap"
1994 Don't Drink the Water Axel Magee ABC television film
1996–2000 Spin City Mike Flaherty Lead role (103 episodes)
1997 The Chris Rock Show Himself Episode: "Jesse Jackson/Rakim" (uncredited)
2002 Clone High Gandhi's Remaining Kidney Voice only
Episode: "Escape to Beer Mountain: A Rope of Sand"
2004 Scrubs Dr. Kevin Casey Episodes: "My Catalyst",
"My Porcelain God"
2006 Boston Legal Daniel Post 6 episodes
2009 Rescue Me Dwight 5 episodes
2010–2016 The Good Wife Louis Canning 24 episodes
2011 Ace of Cakes Himself
Curb Your Enthusiasm Himself Episode: "Larry vs. Michael J. Fox"
Phineas and Ferb Michael Voice only
Episode: "The Curse of Candace"
2013–2014 The Michael J. Fox Show Mike Henry Lead role
2016 "NightCap" Himself Also appeared with his wife "Tracy Pollan". Episode: "The Cannon"

Video games

Year Title Role Info
2011 Back to the Future: The Game Willie McFly
Future Marty McFly
Episode 5: "Outatime"
2015 Lego Dimensions Marty McFly


Year Title Notes
1986 The Iceman Hummeth (short) Writer/director
1991 "Tales From The Crypt" Director/Actor Episode: The Trap


Year Title Notes
1995 Coldblooded Producer
1996–2000 Spin City Executive producer
1999 Anna Says Executive producer
2002 Otherwise Engaged Executive producer
2003 Hench at Home Executive producer
2013–2014 The Michael J. Fox Show Executive producer

Awards and nominations

Fox was honoured and received the 2,209th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on December 16, 2002.[66]

Canada's Walk of Fame

Double Helix Medal

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Goldene Kamera

Grammy Awards[70]

Influential Canadian Expat Award

Honorary Degrees

Golden Globe Awards[16]

Primetime Emmy Awards[15]

People's Choice Awards

Satellite Awards

Saturn Awards

Screen Actors Guild Awards[32]



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