Family & Companions
With two long-running sitcoms, multiple Emmy Awards and a top-grossing film series to his name, actor Michael J. Fox might have spent the rest of his life at the forefront of Hollywood's A-list, had the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson's disease not limited the actor's screen career. The Canadian actor was one of the biggest stars of the 1980s, first embodying the Reagan-era culture clash with his role as an aspiring yuppie teen on the sitcom "Family Ties" (NBC, 1982-89). He parlayed his flawless comic timing and clean-cut good looks into a successful film career as amiable boys-next-door, including one with access to a havoc-wreaking time machine in the mega blockbuster "Back to the Future" franchise. Fox challenged his image with grittier roles in films like "Bright Lights Big City" (1988), but more consistently scored as officious young professionals, like his starring role as deputy mayor on the sitcom "Spin City" (ABC, 1996-2002). In 1998, Fox disclosed that he had been diagnosed with the neurological disorder, Parkinson's disease, and semi-retired from acting in 2000, occasionally surfacing as a sitcom guest and voice actor in animated family films including the "Stuart Little" (1999) series. But with this new calling, Fox dedicated himself to publicizing the need for increased stem cell research for his disease as well as many other afflictions. While Fox's steady presence was missed on primetime, his inspirational advocacy on behalf of Parkinson's sufferers ultimately left a more important legacy than his roster of popular comedies.
Born on June 9, 1961, Fox was raised in Edmonton, Alberta and the suburbs of Vancouver, British Columbia. He was always interested in the arts, learning to play guitar at the age of eight which led to teenage band gigs and an interest in stage acting, as well. His first acting job came at the age of only 15, where his boyish face landed him the role of a 10-year-old in the CBC series, "Leo and Me" (1976). Fox became more and more active in regional theater as well as appeared in an ABC TV movie shot in Vancouver, "Letters from Frank" (1979). Encouraged to pursue his dreams by the film's star, TV icon Art Carney, Fox dropped out of high school and moved to Los Angeles where he relatively quickly landed a regular part on "Palmerstown, U.S.A." (CBS, 1980-81). But after a small movie role in "Midnight Madness" (1980), things dried up - enough that the actor was forced to sell off sections of his couch as finances necessitated it. The actor was ready to cash it in and return to Canada when the he auditioned for a new TV sitcom, "Family Ties." Beginning the show as a no-name teen actor billed below the show's adult stars, Meredith Baxter-Birney and Michael Gross, Fox quickly stole the show as the couple's Reagan-era yuppie son, Alex P. Keaton. He may have been playing a greedy, self-serving conservative, but his charming manner and ruffled straight man routine made him almost impossible to dislike. It would be the first of two monumental and defining roles, catapulting him to international fame as the ultimate Republican groupie. And it would be his role of Alex that would change the course of his personal life, as he met his future wife, actress Tracy Pollan, after she played his onscreen girlfriend, Ellen. The couple would go on to marry in 1988 and have four children - as well as the distinction of having one of the more happy and devoted of Hollywood marriages.
Fox earned three Emmy Awards during the course of "Family Ties." Only three years into the sitcom's run, the actor launched his career as movie star du jour with his role as the time-traveling, guitar-playing, boy-next-door Marty McFly, in Robert Zemeckis' wildly successful "Back to the Future" (1985). This second career-making role earned Fox a Golden Globe nomination for his energetic performance which hit all the right comedic notes. However, the same year he hit "Back to the Future" paydirt, Fox also starred in the anemic "Teen Wolf" (1985), which cast him as a student werewolf who parlays his condition into high school popularity. It was due largely to his Marty McFly appeal that "Teen Wolf" made any money at all. With high expectations resting heavily on his shoulders, Fox's next film, "The Secret of My Success" (1987), featured an appealing performance from the actor as a naive but ambitious kid who hustles his way into the corporate world of New York City, but it was hardly the audience pleaser many expected. Dissatisfied with his "nice boy" image, Fox attempted to broaden his range, slowly but surely, beginning with Paul Schrader's "Light of Day" (1987), a misguided rock 'n' roll drama co-starring Joan Jett as his renegade sister. Critics and fans alike reacted negatively to his atypical lack of intensity as the brooding factory worker/band member, enabling Jett to steal the mostly lackluster flick with her compelling performance. As for James Bridges' adaptation of Jay McInerney's "Bright Lights, Big City" (1988), the studio was as adamant as the public about not wanting to see Fox as a coke-snorting magazine fact checker. As expected, the troubled production failed to mark a new career direction for the actor, who for better or worse, typified the All American man-boy. It was a credit to the actor that despite substantial success on the big screen, Fox refused to bail on the sitcom that made him famous, riding Alex P. Keaton into the sunset when the show wrapped in 1989.
Still trying to make a go of edgier dramas, Fox played the conscience-stricken G.I. squaring off against an over-the-top sergeant (Sean Penn) in Brian De Palma's disturbing Vietnam saga "Casualties of War" (1989). The ticket-buying public and critics alike welcomed his return to light comic capers, "Back to the Future II" (1989) and "Back to the Future III" (1990). Shot back-to-back by Zemeckis, these films allowed Fox to play multiple characters, including an aged Marty, Marty's daughter, and his ancient Irish relative, Seamus McFly. He followed up with the cop buddy picture "The Hard Way" (1991) with James Woods and the fish-out-of-water comedy "Doc Hollywood" (1991) - neither coming close to the box office pyrotechnics of the "Future" franchise. Fox discovered another outlet for his talent when he lent his voice to the Disney animal adventure remake "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey" (1993), but the tepid response to his child talent agent in "Life With Mikey" (1993), his beleaguered hotel concierge in "For Love or Money" (1993), and his turn as Kirk Douglas' nephew in "Greedy" (1994) led to a career reassessment.
Changing management, Fox kept a low profile until Woody Allen called and offered up the opinion that Fox "played paranoid angst better than anyone else." Taking this as a huge compliment, he starred in Allen's TV remake of "Don't Drink the Water" (1994). The following year, Fox's portrayal of a mouthy White House domestic advisor - modeled not-so-subtly on George Stephanopoulos - in Rob Reiner's solid political romantic comedy "The American President" (1995) begged for an encore. When the long shoot in New Zealand for Peter Jackson's "The Frighteners" (1996) convinced the actor that a TV series schedule was a better fit for his offscreen family life, he re-teamed with "Family Ties" executive producer-creator Gary David Goldberg for the ABC sitcom "Spin City," where he played a New York City mayoral aide. As executive producer, Fox also had more input into the show, which featured the witty, fast-talking Fox at his trademark best.
However, just as Fox was settling into his second successful series run, the actor was forced to publicly disclose he had been fighting Parkinson's disease since 1991, after the shakes and tremors were becoming more and more obvious to viewers. Audiences were saddened, but that sympathy quickly turned to admiration when Fox transformed into a tireless activist for research into the disease. He testified in Washington about the need to further research, and allowed his symptoms to be clearly visible in public appearances in order to put a human face on a mysterious disease which could make certain people uncomfortable.
Fox returned to the big screen in 1999, providing the gleefully boyish vocals of beloved mouse "Stuart Little" (1999). While purists may have objected to the changes in the E. B. White story, family audiences embraced the little white mouse and turned the film into a surprise box office hit. The following year, Fox bid farewell to "Spin City" to focus on his health and advocacy efforts, though he remained a consultant to the show and returned frequently as a guest star to visit his successor and real-life friend Charlie Sheen. Fox regularly appeared in voice form in theatrical animated releases, starring as the lead character in Disney's "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" (2001), a not-so-successful attempt to graft a teen boy to the classic Disney animated formula. He revisited Stuart Little in the equally charming 2002 sequel, "Stuart Little 2." He played a seemingly perfect doctor who threatens the staff in a few episodes of the NBC sitcom "Scrubs" (2001-09) in 2004, a series created by "Spin City's" Bill Lawrence. In three 2005 episodes of "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08), Fox guested as a rich businessman with lung cancer, earning an Emmy nomination for his work.
In 2006, Fox's Parkinson's advocacy efforts were in the spotlight once again when the actor stepped forward to publicly endorse Senatorial candidates who supported federally funded stem cell research - a promising avenue of medical research that was ultimately vetoed by president George W. Bush over objections to its use of embryonic tissues. Fox carried on his with his efforts even after the bill was nixed and Right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh accused Fox of exaggerating his symptoms in a PSA to win over public support of the controversial bill. Nonplussed by the insensitivity of the Right, the actor continued his stem cell advocacy and reprised his voice role of Stuart Little in the third installment of the series, "Stuart Little 3," which was released direct-to-DVD in 2009. Meanwhile, he landed a four-episode arc on the popular comedy-drama, "Rescue Me" (FX, 2004-2011), playing an abrasive paraplegic and new boyfriend to Janet (Andrea Roth), who runs afoul of Tommy (Denis Leary) when they first meet. Fox earned another Emmy nomination for his work on the show for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, which he would go on to win. He earned further acclaim for his performance as a manipulative rival attorney on "The Good Wife" (CBS, 2009-16) opposite the series' star Julianna Margulies. Meanwhile, he delivered a hilarious send up of himself on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO, 2000- ), where neighbor Larry (Larry David) accuses him of harassment. His performance on "The Good Wife" earned him Emmy nominations for guest actor in 2011 and 2012, while his "Curb" appearance gave him a second nomination in the latter year.
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Made professional acting debut on the CBC series "Leo and Me"
TV-movie acting debut, "Letters From Frank" (CBS), encouraged by Art Carney to pursue acting in Los Angeles, CA
Made TV series debut as a regular on "Palmerstown U.S.A." (CBS)
Made film debut in "Midnight Madness"
Achieved fame as Alex P Keaton, the conservative elder son of two former hippies on popular NBC sitcom "Family Ties"
Feature debut in a leading role, playing Marty McFly in Robert Zemeckis' "Back to the Future"
Directed first short, "The Iceman Hummeth" for "David Letterman's 2nd Annual Holiday Film Festival" (NBC)
Acted opposite rocker Joan Jett in Paul Schrader's "Light of Day"
Starred as a young Midwesterner whose NYC life is coming apart at the seams in "Bright Lights, Big City"
Delivered fine dramatic turn as the conscience-stricken soldier in Brian De Palma's Vietnam drama "Casualties of War"
Reprised role of Marty McFly in "Back to the Future II" (1989) and "Back to the Future III" (1990), both directed by Zemeckis; also played multiple roles in both sequels
Made TV directorial debut with an episode of HBO's "Tales From the Crypt"
Helmed "Rainy Day" episode of "Brooklyn Bridge" (CBS), re-teaming with executive produce and creator Gary David Goldberg, who worked on "Family Ties"
Played rare supporting turn as a heavy in "Where the River Flows North"
Provided the voice of Chance (the Bulldog) in "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey"
Portrayed Alex Magee in ABC movie version of Woody Allen's "Don't Drink the Water"
Appeared in Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's improvizational "Blue in the Face"
Delivered dead-on portrayal of advisor to "The American President"
Producing debut, "Coldblooded"; also appeared in a cameo
Joined the all-star cast of Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks!"
Reprised Chance for "Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco"
Returned to series TV playing mayoral aide Michael Flaherty on ABC sitcom "Spin City"; also executive produced; announced plans to leave the show in 2001 to concentrate on raising money and awareness for Parkinson's disease; remained on as an executive producer; won an Emmy for his work as an actor in his final season
Re-teamed with Zemeckis (this time as executive producer) for Peter Jackson directed feature "The Frighteners"
Re-teamed with director Rob Reiner for the musical comedy special "I Am Your Child" (ABC)
Publicly disclosed his 1991 diagnosis of Parkinson's disease in an interview with <i>People</i> magazine (November), also revealed he underwent brain surgery to alleviate tremors
Voiced the title character in the feature "Stuart Little"; returned for 2002 sequel "Stuart Little 2"
Provided the voice for the leading explorer in the Disney animated feature "Atlantis: The Lost Empire"
Received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame
Wrote and produced the ABC sitcom pilot "Hench at Home" about a forcibly retired pro hockey player's home life
Released the bestselling memoir <i>Lucky Man</i>
Guest starred on "Scrubs" (NBC) as a surgeon with obsessive-compulsive disorder
Played a business tycoon who suffers from cancer on three episodes of ABC's "Boston Legal"; earned an Emmy nomination
Guest starred on "Rescue Me" (FX) as Janet's (Andrea Roth) love interest
Earned Grammy nomination in Best Spoken Word category for <i>Always Looking Up</i>
Traveled the world and sought out examples of what makes people from different cultures their happiest as host of the one-hour ABC special "Michael J. Fox: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist"
Earned Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word for the album <i>A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Future...</i>
Joined cast of CBS' "The Good Wife" as a wily and cynical attorney afflicted with a neurological condition, which he exploits to sway jurors and potential clients
Starred as Mike Henry on the short-lived "The Michael J. Fox Show"
Cast as Ethan West on "Designated Survivor"