Who Is Michael J. Fox?
Born in Canada in 1961, actor Michael J. Fox first became widely known for his role as Alex P. Keaton on the popular sitcom Family Ties. He later starred in the teen adventure fare Back to the Future and its sequels and Teen Wolf, before returning to television in the 1990s in Spin City. In 1999, Fox announced that he was battling Parkinson's disease. He left Spin City in 2000 to launch the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research and focus on family, later guest-starring on such shows as Scrubs, Boston Legal and The Good Wife.
Background and Early Career
Famed actor Michael J. Fox, who first achieved stardom in 1982 as the acquisitive Reagan-era poster boy Alex P. Keaton on the sitcom Family Ties, was born Michael Andrew Fox on June 9, 1961, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Fox began using the middle initial "J." professionally because he wanted to distinguish himself from another actor named Michael Fox, and didn't like the play on words that "Michael A. Fox" lent itself to; his stage name is also reportedly a tribute to American actor Michael J. Pollard.
The fourth of five children born to parents Bill and Phyllis, Fox struggled in school and was too small—growing to a height of 5'4"—to compete in his favorite activity, ice hockey. He found an outlet in drama class, and in 1976, at the age of 15, he made his professional acting debut on the CBS series Leo and Me, playing a 10-year-old.
Alex P. Keaton on 'Family Ties'
After starring in the CBS movie Letters from Frank (also filmed in Canada), Fox dropped out of high school and drove to Los Angeles, California, with his father. There, he landed a role on the series Palmerstown, U.S.A., before being cast as Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties (1982-1989), where he would woo audiences with his confident charm and impeccable comedic timing for the next seven years.
The character Keaton was a young conservative often spouting viewpoints at odds with his progressive parents Elyse and Steven (Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross) while also contending with sisters Mallory and Jennifer (Justine Bateman and Tina Yothers) and becoming a nurturing figure to little brother Andy (Brian Bonsall). Family Ties is considered one of TV's enduring sitcoms, and Fox won a Golden Globe and three consecutive Emmys for his role as Keaton.
Blockbuster Success: 'Back to the Future'
Fox also met enormous success on the big screen, most notably playing Marty McFly in Robert Zemeckis's zany romp Back to the Future (1985), co-starring Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover and Christopher Lloyd. Traveling back to the 1950s, McFly threatens the possibility of his own existence when he inadvertently gets in the way of his teenage parents becoming a couple. Back to the Future was a pop-culture phenomena that earned more than $380 million worldwide and received raves from critics and audiences alike for its thoughtful humanism, sporting a No. 1 Huey Lewis & the News hit to boot.
Another comic role with fantastic themes followed shortly for Fox when he appeared in Teen Wolf (1985), which had a far more modest box office performance than Back to the Future. The actor was next seen on the big screen in the rock-oriented Light of Day, co-starring Joan Jett, and the comedy The Secret of My Success (both 1987), with the latter earning $110 million worldwide.
Fox took on dramatic roles in subsequent films. He played a factory worker in Light of Day (1987) and a cocaine-snorting fact checker in Bright Lights, Big City (1988), later earning acclaim for his starring role alongside Sean Penn in Brian De Palma's Vietnam saga Casualties of War (1989). Showing a lighter side, Fox lent his voice to Chance, a Bulldog, in the Disney's family film, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993).
Political Sitcom: 'Spin City'
Audiences applauded Fox's return to Back to the Future for the second and third installments of the film series, released in 1989 and 1990, respectively. His pitch-perfect portrayal of a George Stephanopoulos-type character in The American President (1995), starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, also earned Fox accolades, but it was his ceremonious return to prime-time TV with a role on the ABC sitcom Spin City, launched in 1996, that put Fox back where he belonged: delighting audiences on a weekly basis with a schedule that allowed him more time with his family. The series saw Fox playing deputy mayor Mike Flaherty opposite co-stars Barry Bostwick and Connie Britton.
In 1999, Fox contributed his trademark voice and comic flair as the title character (a little white mouse) in the film adaptation of E.B. White's Stuart Little. The actor was honored with a star on the fabled Hollywood Walk of Fame in December 2002.
Foundation for Parkinson's Research
In late 1999, Fox made the startling announcement that he had been battling Parkinson's disease since 1991, and had even undergone brain surgery to alleviate tremors caused by the condition. Despite Spin City's incredible success and a showering of Emmy and Golden Globe awards, Fox announced in early 2000 that he would be leaving the show, which he also executive produced, to spend time with his family and concentrate on raising money and awareness for Parkinson's disease.
Fox left Spin City following his fourth season—and 100th episode—on the show and, in May 2000, launched the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, a nonprofit organization "dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson's disease through an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson's today." Today, the foundation is credited as the world's largest nonprofit funder of drug development for Parkinson's disease.
Fox won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his final season on Spin City, along with the respect and support of the Hollywood community.
Slate of New Series
In 2004, Fox guest-starred on the TV comedy Scrubs as Dr. Kevin Casey, a surgeon with obsessive-compulsive disorder. In 2006, he appeared in a recurring role on the drama Boston Legal, for which he earned an Emmy nomination for best guest appearance. Then in 2009, Fox appeared on the dark drama Rescue Me. That same year, his TV special Michael J. Fox: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, based on his bestselling book of the same title, aired on ABC.
Fox went on to make guest appearances on such TV series as Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Good Wife, before finally returning to a starring role with The Michael J. Fox Show. The sitcom, which co-starred Betsy Brandt, premiered on NBC in 2013. But despite receiving a fair share of positive reviews, it was canceled after just one season.
Fox nonetheless proved he could still make an impact with more limited screen time, snagging Emmy nominations in 2013 and '15 for his work on The Good Wife, appearing throughout its final season.
Fox married actress Tracy Pollan (who played Ellen, Alex Keaton's girlfriend, on Family Ties) in 1988. The couple has four children: son Sam, twin girls Aquinnah and Schuyler, and daughter Esmé Annabelle.
In April 2018, after the actor canceled appearances at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in Canada, it was revealed that he had undergone spinal surgery. "Michael J. Fox recently underwent spinal surgery unrelated to his Parkinson's," said his spokesperson. "He is recovering, feeling great, and looking forward to getting back on the golf course this summer."
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