The actor who played Marty McFly in the “Back to the Future” trilogy is the face of a new film these days: A documentary about his own personal battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
Michael J. Fox, who rose to stardom in the 1980s as Alex P. Keaton in the TV show, “Family Ties,” was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 29, and has been an outspoken advocate for awareness and education ever since. Fox is now 61.
The documentary, titled, “Still,” debuted May 12 on Apple TV.
The movie, which incorporates documentary, archival and scripted elements, has received critical acclaim from media outlets such as NPR and The New York Times. It recounts Fox’s extraordinary story in his own words, and, as the film’s promotional copy explains, “explores what happens when an incurable optimist confronts an incurable disease.”
Fox made several public appearances in the weeks before the film’s debut, and spoke openly about his battle with Parkinson’s.
In an interview with Variety, Fox spoke about his day-to-day realities.
“I have aides around me quite a bit of the time in case I fall, and that lack of privacy is hard to deal with,” he said. “I lost family members, I lost my dog, I lost freedom, I lost health. I hesitate to use the term ‘depression,’ but all the signs were there.”
Fox revealed in the same interview that he has broken multiple bones over the years—usually the result of falling. He enumerated his broken bones for the author of the story: arm and elbow and face all were on the list. He went so far as to say falls related to balance issues are one of the biggest dangers of living with Parkinson’s Disease.
“My problem is I fall down. I trip over things and fall down and break things. And that’s part of having this,” Fox said. “But I hope that, and I feel that, I won’t break as many bones tomorrow. So that’s being optimistic.”
During the same week, in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Fox told interviewer Jane Pauley that his experience with Parkinson’s has gotten progressively more challenging.
“It’s been 30+ years; not many of us that have had this disease for 30 years,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie. It’s gettin’ tougher. Every day it’s tougher. It sucks having Parkinson’s. But, but that’s, that’s the way it is. I mean, you know, who do I see about that?”
Still, Fox has much to celebrate.
Dr. Alexander Troster, professor of neuropsychology and chair of the Department of Neuropsychology at Barrow Neurological Institute at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, said Fox is a “great example” of showing that there can be life after a life-changing diagnosis.
“He’s one person, but if you look at the education, awareness, and research that has helped other people, the impact he’s had is amazing,” said Troster, a past president of the National Academy of Neuropsychology. “He’s made something very positive out of all of this.”
Troster went on to say that the Parkinson’s symptoms Fox exhibits currently are consistent with symptoms that someone who has had the disease that long might show.
“The symptoms are obviously progressing. He shows some of the treatment side effects,” Troster said. “It also shows that you can have a great quality of life for many, many years with the disease.”
Fox himself is hopeful for the future.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation has raised $1.5 billion for research overall, and this month announced a breakthrough: a biomarker for Parkinson’s which could mean faster diagnosis and treatment.
In the film, he also credits Parkinson’s with saving his life, and forcing him to make the most of every moment.
“The thing about motion with me is I’ve always been moving; I’ve always counted on movement to not only propel me from place to place, but to express myself,” he says in the film. “The thing that I learned was that I couldn’t be still in my life. I couldn’t be present in my life. Until I found this thing that made me present in every moment of my life. It’s shaken me awake.”