Michael J. The crowd jumped to its feet when Fox took the stage at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday for the premiere of a new documentary about his life, career and work as a public advocate for Parkinson’s research. He was joined by Davis Guggenheim, director of “Still: A Michael J. Fox Film,” which Apple will release this year. And what moved the crowd so intensely during Fox’s comments and throughout the documentary, was his optimism in the face of a devastating disease. It’s one that has impaired his speech and movement, but not his razor-sharp intellect.
It was Fox’s sense of humor that struck Guggenheim while reading an interview with the actor in the New York Times and then reminiscing about it. “His writing…is so amazing,” says Guggenheim. “It was very touching and very real, but it was also funny and insightful.” When Guggenheim approached Fox about making a film about his meteoric rise to the top of Hollywood and his medical struggles, the answer was simple. “I thought, ‘I have nothing to do for the next six weeks,'” Fox said.
The movie they created together is inspiring, but it doesn’t shy away from the difficulty of living with Parkinson’s, a disorder that affects the nervous system and the body parts it controls. On screen, Fox recounts the many falls and spills that have left him with broken bones, dislocated shoulders and bruises. At times, he admitted during a post-screening Q&A, it got so difficult that he started asking tough questions.
“With all these injuries it’s gotten to the point recently where, I don’t want to sound too bad, I’m definitely disappointed with the way things are going.” But, Fox said, he soon realized, “This is rock. I’ll take it. I love my life. I love my family. I love what I do…I love that I can be an example to people and to them.” I can help them deal with the problem.”
Fox’s family, which includes his wife Tracy Pollan and four children, is a big part of what keeps him going.
“When I watch the film, the thing that screams to me about how lucky I am and how successful my life has been is the stuff with my family,” he said. “It’s such a joy.”
Before Parkinson’s changed everything, Fox was on top of the world with roles in “Back to the Future” and “Family Ties.” This was a time in which he said he could be spoiled and self-absorbed, as well as a time when he drank too much (“still” evident in Fox’s drinking). But it also gave him roles in the kind of projects that have made his work memorable and meaningful to generations of fans. Fox used her time on stage to pay tribute to her co-star Christopher Lloyd, who played her mad scientist mentor in “Back to the Future.” The two actors have become close in recent years as they have appeared together at fan events.
“She’s getting younger, I’m getting older,” Fox said.
When an audience member praised Fox for raising $2 billion for Parkinson’s research, he received a tepid response.
“That number, as impressive as it is, kind of bothers me, because I thought we’d be done with it by now,” Fox said. “But science is hard.”
Ever the optimist, Fox then looked at the progress that had been made toward finding a cure. Eventually there may be a pill that people can take that will prevent them from getting Parkinson’s, he said.
“People say, ‘But it’s going to be after your time, are you okay?'” Fox asked rhetorically before answering his own question.
“Shoot yes,” he said. “That would be great. Just get it done. I don’t care if I’m on the bus.”