'Life changes; you change with it,' actor Michael J. Fox says at Show Me Center appearance

Thursday, October 27, 2011
Michael J. Fox

Michael J. Fox was in Gainesville, Fla., filming "Doc Hollywood" when he noticed a tremor in his left pinky.

Speaking to a packed Show Me Center on Wednesday night, he joked that since he was filming with Woody Harrelson, maybe it had something to do with the raging hangover he had that morning.

But the tremor wouldn't stop.

After tests and as many medical opinions as he could get, Fox was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's disease. It was 1991, and he was 29 years old.

"Life changes; you change with it," Fox said.

Fox said his doctor told him that he had about 10 good years of acting left, so the star of the TV show "Family Ties" and the "Back to the Future" movie trilogy began taking every job he could get. He found himself in the middle of a sheep ranch in New Zealand when he realized that he should be doing more with his family than just preparing for their future.

At first, Fox didn't tell the world. He found himself conflicted, worried about being out of work.

"Could they laugh at an actor they knew was sick?" he said. Fox decided that he would do an interview with Barbara Walters and People magazine in 1998 because "if you want the world to know, who better than Barbara Walters?"

Fox said that the news spread quickly. There were slow-motion tapes of him acting, people trying to find the "twitch." Then, within a few days, the news changed.

"People were no longer talking about Michael J. Fox; they were talking about Parkinson's," Fox said. This was the time in his life where he realized that he could, and would, do more.

Fox dived headlong into his foundation, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. The foundation is focused on a mission of not just earlier detection but finding a cure for Parkinson's.

Founded in 2000, the foundation to date has funded more than $264 million in research.

Fox spoke of a recent campaign that was put on with Nike. "They created the shoes from 'Back to the Future II,' and sold them on eBay," he said. The pairs that sold raised $5 million, and that was matched by Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, and his wife. They are continuing to match further donations up to $50 million through the end of 2012.

Fox said his optimism stems from his family. Fox has a son in college and twin 16-year-old daughters. Fox said that he leads a good life. His wife, Tracy, is his inseparable partner.

"She's not a rock," he said. "She's fluid and responsible and wonderful."

Fox appeared as part of Southeast Missouri State University's 2011-2012 University Speaker Series.

Jack and Mickey Koetting of Ste. Genevieve, Mo., were on hand with Jack's mother, Delores, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2005, though she had the disease for quite a while before it was diagnosed.

"We were very excited to see him coming," Mickey Koetting said, "and to get mom here to see him as well."

For more information about a local support group for Parkinson's disease, contact Dr. Desma Reno at Southeast Missouri State University at 651-2939.

Pertinent address:

1333 N. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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