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 Institute gave him an honoris causa doctorate for his work in advocating a cure for Parkinson's disease.
Michael Andrew 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.
Fox's family lived in various cities and towns across Canada because of his father's career. 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. Fox attended Burnaby Central Secondary School, and now has a theatre named for him in Burnaby South Secondary. At age 15 Fox, 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. 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.
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. 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 a homage to actor Michael J. Pollard.
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 from 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. Family Ties had been sold to the television network using the pitch "Hip parents, square kids", 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. At its peak, the audience for Family Ties drew one-third of America's households every week. Fox won three Emmy awards for Family Ties in 1986, 1987, and 1988. He also won a Golden Globe Award in 1989.
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.
While filming Family Ties, Fox met his wife, Tracy Pollan, who portrayed his girlfriend, Ellen. 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 character's) therapist, and there is a reference to an off-screen character named "Mallory". 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".
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. 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. 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. 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).
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. 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."
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". 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)". 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."
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". 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).
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."
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.
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. Fox won an Emmy award for Spin City in 2000, three Golden Globe Awards in 1998, 1999, and 2000, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards in 1999 and 2000. 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. 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. 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.
In 2004, Fox guest starred in two episodes of the comedy-drama Scrubs as Dr. Kevin Casey, a surgeon with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. The series was created by Spin City creator Bill Lawrence. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
Fox married actress Tracy Pollan on July 16, 1988, at West Mountain Inn in Arlington, Vermont. The couple have four children: son Sam Michael (born May 30, 1989), twin daughters Aquinnah Kathleen and Schuyler Frances (born February 15, 1995), and daughter Esmé Annabelle (born November 3, 2001). Fox holds dual Canadian-US citizenship. 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. On June 4, 2010, the city of Burnaby, British Columbia, honoured Fox by granting him the Freedom of the City. Fox and his family reside in Manhattan, New York.
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. After his diagnosis, Fox started drinking heavily. He sought help and stopped drinking altogether. In 1998, he decided to go public with his condition, and since then, he has been a strong advocate of Parkinson's disease research. 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.
Fox manages the symptoms of his Parkinson's disease with the drug carbidopa/levodopa, and he also had a thalamotomy in 1998.
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.
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);
In an interview with NPR in April 2002, Fox explained what he does when he becomes symptomatic during an interview;
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;
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. 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. 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).
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. On March 5, 2010, Fox received an honorary doctorate in medicine from Karolinska Institutet for his contributions to research in Parkinson's disease. He has also received an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of British Columbia.
On May 31, 2012, he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the Justice Institute of British Columbia 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.
Canada's Walk of Fame2000: Inducted, Canada's Walk of Fame
Double Helix Medal2012: CSHL Double Helix Medal Honoree
Hollywood Walk of Fame2002: Star on the Walk of Fame – 7021 Hollywood Blvd.
Goldene Kamera2011: Goldene Kamera für Lebenswerk (Lifetime Achievement Award), German film and TV award.
Grammy Awards2010: Won, Best Spoken Word Album – Always Looking Up: Adventures of An Incurable Optimist
Influential Canadian Expat Award2009: Awarded "Most Influential Canadian Expat", Canadian Expat Association
Honorary Degrees2008: Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa, New York University
2008: Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, University of British Columbia
2010: Honoris causa doctorate, Karolinska Institutet
2012: Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Justice Institute of British Columbia
2017: Doctor of Fine Arts, Stony Brook University
Golden Globe Awards1986: Nominated, Best Actor in a TV-Series — Comedy/Musical – Family Ties
1986: Nominated, Best Actor in a Motion Picture — Comedy/Musical – Back to the Future
1987: Nominated, Best Actor in a TV-Series — Comedy/Musical – Family Ties
1989: Won, Best Actor in a TV-Series — Comedy/Musical – Family Ties
1997: Nominated, Best Actor in a TV-Series — Comedy/Musical – Spin City
1998: Won, Best Actor in a TV-Series — Comedy/Musical – Spin City
1999: Won, Best Actor in a TV-Series — Comedy/Musical – Spin City
2000: Won, Best Actor in a TV-Series — Comedy/Musical – Spin City
2014: Nominated, Best Actor in a TV-Series — Comedy/Musical – The Michael J. Fox Show
Primetime Emmy Awards1985: Nominated, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series – Family Ties
1986: Won, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series – Family Ties
1987: Won, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series – Family Ties
1988: Won, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series – Family Ties
1989: Nominated, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series – Family Ties
1997: Nominated, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series – Spin City
1998: Nominated, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series – Spin City
1999: Nominated, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series – Spin City
2000: Won, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series – Spin City
2006: Nominated, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series – Boston Legal
2009: Won, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series – Rescue Me: Sheila
2011: Nominated, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series – The Good Wife
2012: Nominated, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series – Curb Your Enthusiasm: Larry vs. Michael J. Fox
2012: Nominated, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series – The Good Wife
2013: Nominated, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series – The Good Wife
2015: Nominated, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series – The Good Wife
2016: Nominated, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series – The Good Wife
People's Choice Awards1997: Won, Favorite Male Performer in a New Television Series
2012: Nominated, Favorite TV Guest Star – The Good Wife
Satellite Awards1997: Nominated, Best Actor in a Television Series — Comedy or Musical – Spin City
1998: Nominated, Best Actor in a Television Series — Comedy or Musical – Spin City
1999: Nominated, Best Actor in a Television Series — Comedy or Musical – Spin City
Saturn Awards1985: Won, Best Actor – Back to the Future
Screen Actors Guild Awards1999: Won, Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series – Spin City
2000: Won, Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series – Spin City
Fox, Michael J. (2002). "Lucky Man: A Memoir". New York: Hyperion. ISBN 978-0-7868-6764-6.
Fox, Michael J. (2009). "Always Looking Up: The adventures of an Incurable Optimist". New York: Hyperion. ISBN 978-1-4013-0338-9.
Fox, Michael J. (2010). "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned". New York: Hyperion. ISBN 978-1-4013-2386-8.