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The Resource for the Global Finance Profession

Michael J. Fox Talks Past and Future at AFP Annual Conference Opener

  • By Andrew Deichler
  • Published: 2012-10-15

Treasury 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."

In 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."

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