and finance professionals gathered for the opening general session at the AFP
Annual Conference Sunday to hear from renowned actor, author and activist
Michael J. Fox. Speaking before a full house, Fox shared some of the experiences
that have helped make him one of the most admired and respected performers and
medical research advocates in the world. Fox's remarkable story easily fits the
theme of this year's conference: be bold.
Fox began by discussing his
early life, from growing up as a hockey-loving kid in Vancouver Canada to his
decision to leave school and move to Hollywood to pursue acting. He explained
that prior to landing the iconic role of Alex Keaton on Family Ties--which
quickly propelled him to mega-stardom--he was living in a tiny apartment, doing
bit parts and commercials and trying to scrape together enough money to eat.
Roles in popular films like Teen Wolf and Back to the Future followed,
and Fox's life was never the same. After the big breakthrough, Fox's life became
what he describes as "the fun house," in which people he wanted to meet his
entire life suddenly wanted to meet him. He relayed a funny story about
competing in a celebrity hockey game in which he got past the legendary Bobby
Orr to score a goal, only to later realize that Orr intentionally let him score
on him. It was during this period that Fox also met Tracy Pollan, the actress
who would later become his wife.
Fox explained that it was during the
filming of Doc Hollywood that he first discovered the signs of Parkinson's
disease. "That's when I first got the message," he said. "I woke up to find it
in my left hand. It wasn't a fax, telegraph or a memo. My hand held nothing at
all. My hand was trembling and that was the message. It was a constant trembling
in my pinky finger."
After meeting with several doctors, Fox was informed
that he had "about a good 10 years" left of acting before the effects of
Parkinson's would likely prevent him from performing his craft. Fox explained
that it took him a long time to truly accept that he had the illness. "It was
like being stuck in the middle of the street, feet in concrete, unable to move
and knowing a bus is coming," he said. "You don't know when, and you don't know
how fast it's coming, but you can feel the vibrations; it's coming."
the years that followed, he poured himself into work, while privately seeking
treatment, even going so far as to having brain surgery. Eventually, he decided
to come forward and admit it to the public. "I realized the one group of people
I was still trying to fool was the audience, and I decided I couldn't do that
anymore," said Fox.
In the years that followed, Fox founded the Michael J.
Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, which has become the second largest
Parkinson's research facility in the world. Fox explained that the foundation is
currently working on identifying the disease prior to the emergence of symptoms.
He noted that by the time he first noticed symptoms, he had already experienced
significant cell damage.
Through it all, Fox maintains a positive outlook.
While Parkinson's is clearly a part of his life, since accepting that he has the
illness, he does not let the disease rule him. "I realized--it takes up the
space that it takes up, but it doesn't take up any more space. So there's room
for me to live my life and do the things I need to do," he said. "Be honest with
yourself and accept it. Acceptance doesn't mean resignation."