Michael J. Fox
It was in 1991 when the world first heard the awful truth. Michael J. Fox, one of the most beloved and respected performers of his generation, announced he had Parkinson's Disease, and had been suffering with the debilitating neurological disorder for nearly seven years.
Demonstrating the thoughtfulness and integrity that have long defined his public and private personas, Fox said he wanted to reveal the long-held secret himself so that friends and fans wouldn't learn of it in the tabloid press. Four months later, he agreed to undergo delicate brain surgery in hopes of reducing the tremors that are symptomatic of the disease. When his doctor, Boston neurosurgeon Bruce Cook, explained the procedural risks, Fox likened it to his decision 20 years earlier to drop out of high school and head for Hollywood. "The difference between what I did and what you're doing," he joked to Cook, "is that you know what you're doing."
Fox was, indeed, a brashly naive 17-year-old when, in 1978, he left his family's British Columbia home - he was born in Edmonton, but grew up in Vancouver - to chase his show business dreams. His résumé included only one professional credit - a 13-episode run in the short-lived CBC sitcom Leo And Me.
Four years of disappointment followed. Broke and discouraged, in 1982 Fox decided to return home. Just days before his scheduled departure, Fox learned that Matthew Broderick had turned down a promising new sitcom called Family Ties and that the plum role of ultra-conservative, buttoned-down teen Alex P. Keaton was being offered to him.Family Ties debuted on NBC in September 1982 to extremely low ratings. But network genius Grant Tinker knew the audience would build and agreed to keep it on the air. Less than a year later, it was a Top 10 hit. Over the course of its seven-season run, Family Ties earned Fox three Emmys and established him as prime time's brightest young star.
Another fortunate casting change led to his simultaneous success on the big screen. Director Robert Zemeckis had decided to replace Eric Stoltz as the star of his frothy sci-fi fantasy Back To The Future. Instead, he reverted to his first choice for the role of teen time-traveller Marty McFly - Michael J. Fox.
After Family Ties was cancelled, Fox's personal life blossomed. He married co-star Tracy Pollan in 1988 and their son, Sam, was born the following year. Twins Aquinna and Schuyler followed in 1995. Professionally, though, Fox's situation grew progressively bleak. Caught in the Hollywood no-man's-land between adolescence and adulthood, he racked up six years of consecutive box-office failures.
Finally, in 1995, the world was ready for a grown-up Michael J. Fox and he earned raves for his pivotal supporting performance as the White House press secretary in The American President. The following year found Fox back in familiar territory - starring as conservative, New York deputy mayor Mike Flaherty in the smart, political sitcom Spin City - and back at the top of his game, as evidenced by his back-to-back victories at the Golden Globe awards.
Fox bid an emotional farewell to Spin City, opting to devote full-time attention to his family and his physical well being. Meanwhile, Fox remains typically brave and philosophic as he explained to Barbara Walters, "I just feel like I've been in God's pocket for so long, I just didn't think I was going to be hammered with this. I would find a way to live with it, learn from it, and deal with it. And I have. My life is so filled with positives, so filled with blessings, and so filled with things I wouldn't trade for anything in the world."