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Michael J Fox opens up about ‘terrible year’ with Parkinson’s disease and cites new research as ‘big reward’

The actor was diagnosed with the disease in 1991

Amber Raiken
New York
Thursday 13 April 2023 21:51 BST
Related: Michael J. Fox Gives Update On His Parkinson’s Disease

Michael J Fox has reflected on having a “terrible year” with his Parkinson’s disease and how new research on the condition is still a “big reward”.

The 61-year-old, who publicly announced that he had Parkinson’s in 1998, gave an update on his health a recent interview with Stat News. The publication reported that Fox has faced a few physical challenges recently, including breaking multiple bones due to a fall.

“It’s been a terrible year,” he said, before adding that he’s “feeling better” now in some ways.

Parkinson’s disease is “a progressive disorder that affects the nervous system and the parts of the body controlled by the nerves,” as noted by the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms can include hand tremors, impaired posture and balance, and speech changes.

Despite his difficult year, the Back to the Future star acknowledged that an important discovery about the disease has been made in research funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

“This is the thing,” he said. “This is the big reward. This is the big trophy.”

In the study published by The Lancet Neurology last month, researchers discovered that the presence of alpha-synuclein, which is used to diagnose Parkinson’s, can be found by looking at people’s spinal fluid. Ultimately, this could help people get diagnosed and treated for the condition sooner. To Stat News, scientists also expressed their hopes for the disease to be diagnosed through a blood test, skin biopsy, or a nose swap.

“It’s all changed,” Fox added. “It can be known and treated early on. It’s huge.”

The actor was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991, although he didn’t announce it publicly until years later. He reflected on why he went public with the news in 1998, explaining: “I had to tell people. They were going to notice.”

“It turned into this new chapter of my life. It was the foundation,” he added, referring to his non-profit organisation dedicated to Parkinson’s research.

This isn’t the first time that Fox has spoken out about his condition. During a Q&A session at the South by Southwest Film Festival last month following the screening of his film, STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie, he was asked how “mobilised” people to care about Parkinson’s.

“I didn’t have a choice,” he said, per People. “This is it. I have to give everything I have, and it’s not lip service. I show up and do the best I can.”

He added: “Pity is a benign form of abuse. I can feel sorry for myself, but I don’t have time for that. There is stuff to be learned from this, so let’s do that and move on.”

Fox has also described how his Parkinson’s condition impacted his career. During an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in June 2022, he recalled an incident on set where he couldn’t remember his lines.

“When I did the spinoff from [The] Good Wife, which is [The] Good Fight, I couldn’t remember the lines. I just had this blank, I couldn’t remember the lines,” he said, before noting that used to be able to memorise scripts “in an instant” but that he couldn’t “get this line together” on The Good Fight.

However, he said that he didn’t let the experience get to him: “But what [was] really refreshing was I didn’t panic. I didn’t freak out. I just went, ‘Well, that’s that. Moving on. A key element of this process is memorising lines, and I can’t do it.’”

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