Michael J. Fox Details Entering a "Second Retirement," Health Struggles in New Memoir
In his new memoir, Michael J. Fox ponders the question: "Can you be an optimist and a realist at the same time?"
In No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality (Flatiron Books), released Tuesday, Fox reflects and reassesses his optimistic perspective after enduring new health challenges. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 29, Fox has had his fair share of obstacles while remaining hopeful, as outlined in his previous memoirs Lucky Man, Always Looking Up and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future. But in his fourth memoir, Fox questions whether he perhaps oversold his message of hope. He writes that he "managed to accept life on life's terms, and up to the point I found those terms acceptable," but now "optimism, as a frame of mind, is not saving me."
From experiencing cognitive changes, including memory loss, to being forced to learn how to walk again after undergoing surgery on his spinal cord, Fox shares how he struggled to find hope amid the realities that he faced a gradual progression of his Parkinson's Disease. Throughout his book he reflects on the highs and lows while learning how to find contentment and rise up even if he falls.
The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at some of the highlights in No Time Like the Future, from Fox deciding to get sober to his favorite career role and what led him to a second retirement.
When Fox expressed his hope to have another child, he writes that his wife Tracy was resistant given his drinking problem. "After one night of drinking, I awoke to find Tracy standing over me as I slept on the couch, a spilled beer on the carpet next to my draping arm. She took in the scene and simply asked me, "Is this what you want?" Fox later committed to regularly attending a 12-step program. "I learned to accept and understand my new illness. I could put down a drink, but Parkinson's would be with me for the rest of my life."
Of Rescue Me Fox writes, "It was one of my favorite roles of my career, and this time, I won the Emmy."
"One of my reasons for leaving Spin City was that I felt my face was no longer as expressive as I needed it to be," Fox writes, adding that he always preferred being an actor that editors could cut to at any point for an appropriate reaction. Though Parkinson's caused his face to become "almost frozen in disposition," Fox shares that for later roles he would go on to focus on a "new instrument" of utilizing his "blank expression and employ it as his inscrutable, enigmatic persona."
Larry David's "Ridiculously Funny Pitch"
Instead of sending Fox a script, the actor says Larry David called him to pitch him a story he could have on Curb Your Enthusiasm which Fox writes was "the most ridiculously funny pitch, ever." In the pitch, David comically questions whether Fox has Parkinson's disease and Fox writes he found the role "liberating." "After all those years of hiding my symptoms, overmedicating to achieve and maintain kinetic neutrality, I could let it go," he writes. Fox would go on to star in a 2011 episode called "Larry vs Michael J. Fox."
The Michael J. Fox Show’s One and Done Season
NBC picked up one season of The Michael J. Fox Show which aired from 2013 to 2014. Fox writes that it was a "grievous mistake" not to include his partner Nelle and ensure he "had someone who was looking out for my interest." Fox goes on to share that though his character had Parkinson's, he would sense the execs "observe me tremoring during rehearsal and whispering to their colleagues, 'What's wrong with him?'" He writes, "I think Parkinson's freaked them out, which was problematic, because it was the premise of the show." With the show only lasting on season, Fox writes that at the time he "didn't have the focus or the bandwidth to administer the life support would need to make it." He adds, "That's on me, and I'm fine with that."
Fox explains in detail experiencing a tumor growth on his spinal cord two years ago. After being static for years, the tumor grew and was "strangling" his cord, resulting in Fox having to undergo a surgical procedure to remove it. During his recovery at Johns Hopkins Medical Center and Mount Sinai, Fox says he had to learn how to walk again.
After having difficulty with a walking cane, Fox expressed his reservations with using a wheelchair to help in getting around. "It can be a frustrating and isolating experience, allowing someone else to determine the direction I’m going and the rate of speed I can travel. The pusher is in charge," he writes. "But often in the wheelchair, I’m luggage. I’m not expected to say much. Just sit still." Fox would later learn to be okay with using a wheelchair and started seeing it as "a tool" rather than "a tyrant." "I've managed to live my life with Parkinson's defining me, so I'm no longer troubled by a simple chair with wheels."
"What's Spike Going to Say?"
The same day Fox was expected to film a cameo in the 2019 Spike Lee -produced film See You Yesterday, the actor suffered a dangerous fall that left his left arm broken. As he waited for help to come while he laid on the floor, he recalls being close to tears and being angry with himself. "So many thoughts race through my head. And what about the movie? I should be leaving in a few minutes for the set. What's Spike going to say?" After undergoing surgery for a spiral fracture of the humerus, Fox learned he received a stainless-steel plate and nineteen screws in his arm. Netflix eventually funded a pick-up day with the cast and crew reassembling so Fox could film his scene. "As the resolution to my busted-arm-no-show, it is an ending right out of the movies," Fox writes.
"Round-the-Clock Aides "
After his surgery, Fox was told he would have to go through rehab again as having his arm in a sling would throw off his balance. To help regain his walking, the doctor advised Fox would have "round-the-clock aides." "Counterintuitively, Parkinson's and the tumor on my spine were easier to accept than the broken arm," he writes. "They had been there for years; stealthy and insidious, they crept up on me. The arm crisis was there in an instant, an explosion. A cataclysm."
Realizing that "not being able to speak reliably is a game-breaker for an actor" as well as having difficulty "remembering the words," Fox reflects on the toll his five-episode arc on Designated Survivor had on his brain and body. "Not only do I endure a perfect story of symptoms, but I have to film during February and March in Toronto; snow and ice, and long distances to walk between sets in the enormous warehouse studio," he writes. He also admits he couldn't get through a scene without stopping. Later when working on The Good Fight, Fox also had difficulty with the "shorter production schedule" and having "more scenes to film in a day."
"There is a time for everything, and my time of putting in a twelve-hour workday, and memorizing seven pages of dialogue, is best behind me... I enter a second retirement. That could change, because everything changes. But if this is the end of my acting career, so be it."
In the epilogue of his memoir, Fox acknowledges that the pandemic hit as the finishing touches on his book were being made. The actor takes a moment to thank the healthcare professionals, especially when reflecting on the time he needed home health aides while recovering from surgery. "During our time in quarantine, my family and I would get up from our dinner at 7:00, timed with hospital shift changes, and emerge onto our front porch. We joined our neighbors, isolated in their own bubbles, and we all banged on pots, blew whistles, and rang cowbells in support of health care workers... A band of thousands, sending a message of thanks out to the universe." He later cites a quote from his late father-in-law Stephen Pollan, who passed away in 2018: "With gratitude, optimism becomes sustainable."
No Time Like the Future is available now.