"It is not pretty when it gets bad," Michael J. Fox says of the disease he has learned to live with since 1991. "I don't want to be bouncing around. I don't want to be spilling my drink or driving myself to the point of insanity trying to tie my tie or shave or any of that stuff."
But the actor also says that Parkinson's, an incurable neurological disorder that causes tremors and movements, has become a kind of unsolicited gift that has allowed him to push beyond his own personal situation to help others afflicted with the disease. "It does provide me with an opportunity to make a difference and do positive things."
As founder of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, Fox is focused on raising awareness about and finding a cure for the disease.
Finding Success in Hollywood
Born in 1961, Fox debuted as a child actor on Canadian television. By the age of 18 he had moved to Los Angeles, California, and within a few years had won a lead role on the popular TV comedy Family Ties.
But it was the 1985 hit motion picture Back to the Future that catapulted Fox into international stardom. The young actor played the time-traveling, good-looking, guitar-playing Marty McFly. During the rest of the 1980s and 90s Fox went on to make two Back to the Future sequels and ten other feature films. During these same years he continued work on Family Ties, and later on another hit comedy, Spin City. He had done 100 episodes of Spin City by the time he retired from the show in 2000. That last season he won the coveted Emmy award for best television actor.
The then 39-year-old actor left the grueling television work for health reasons. Nine years earlier he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's.
Campaign for Stem Cell Research
Fox believes medical research on human embryonic stem cells holds great promise for eventual treatment of Parkinson's, and he has become an advocate of greater federal funding to support it.
But the use of embryonic stem cells, which are retrieved from aborted human embryos, has been condemned by conservative and religious groups, who argue against federal support.
That's a position shared by President George Bush, who has imposed tight curbs on the use of embryonic stem cells. In July 2006 the President vetoed legislation that would have provided new federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, a move that angered Michael Fox. "It hurt to see the President use the one veto of his administration to strike down this legislation which passed through both the Houses of Congress," Fox said.
After that setback, Fox joined several candidates for public office who backed his views and produced political ads to help sway voters.
Michael J. Fox hopes the newly constituted Congress will have the votes to override another presidential veto on embryonic stem cells when the bill is reintroduced next year.
He believes the controversial issue involves core American values. "This is really about who we are as a country and how we feel about our people and about the majority respecting the minority and moving forward."
Fox says he is fighting for the estimated 4 million people like himself who are living with Parkinson's. He hopes his efforts can help to find a cure for the disease within his lifetime.