Michael J. Fox opens up about Parkinson’s progression: ‘I won’t be 80’

Michael J. Fox opens up about Parkinson’s progression: ‘I won’t be 80’

Beloved Canadian actor Michael J. Fox has always been honest about his struggles with young-onset Parkinson’s disease.

In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning — teasing the upcoming documentary about his life, Still — Fox said the degenerative condition has made aging a challenge. He described Parkinson’s as a “gift that keeps on taking.”

“It sucks, having Parkinson’s,” Fox, 61, told interviewer Jane Pauley. “It’s getting tougher, it’s getting harder, every day you suffer but that’s the way it is.”

Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1990, the year following the release of Back to the Future Part III. He was 29.

Parkinson’s is a disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects one’s motor functions. The condition causes gradual damage to parts of a person’s brain, resulting in a number of symptoms including tremors, slow movement and stiff and inflexible muscles. There is no cure for the condition.

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Fox said Parkinson’s has led to several injuries over the years, including breaking bones in his face and other parts of his body, and the discovery of a benign tumour on his spine.

He clarified that people do not die directly of Parkinson’s disease — but Fox wasn’t naive to his own mortality either.

“I’m not going to be 80. I won’t be 80,” Fox said.

He claimed that falling, aspirating food and pneumonia can all be seen as a “big killer” for a person with Parkinson’s.

“I recognize how hard this is for people and 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, with gratitude, optimism is sustainable,” he explained. “If you can find something to be grateful for, then you find something to look forward to, and you carry on.”

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Fox has been a leading voice in advocating for Parkinson’s research since he established his own organization, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, in 2000, two years after he went public with his diagnosis. In April, the organization was pivotal in identifying a biogenetic marker that could help with early diagnosis and treatment.

Click to play video: 'Understanding the disease on World Parkinson’s Day'

Understanding the disease on World Parkinson’s Day

The Michael J. Fox Foundation has raised over US$1.75 billion (C$2.37 billion) to fund Parkinson’s research, according to the organization’s website.

Fox retired from acting in 2020. In November, he was given an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian award, for his philanthropic efforts in Parkinson’s research. The award is given to an “individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry,” according to The Academy’s website.

Fox will release a new documentary about his life and Parkinson’s diagnosis, called Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, on Apple TV+ on May 12.

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