At one time, he was one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, with a string of hits such as the Back to the Future trilogy under his belt. But then, at the age of just twenty nine, Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease which led to a long, slow decline and the end of his time as a lead movie actor. Through it all his wife Tracy has stood by his side. This is the incredible story of Michael J. Fox, his wife Tracy and the secrets that have kept their marriage strong for over thirty years …
Born In Canada
Michael Andrew Fox was born in the city of Edmonton in Canada on the 9th of June 1961. His father, William, was in the Canadian armed forces, meaning young Michael moved around a lot in his early years due to his father being stationed at various bases around the country. It wasn’t until 1971 that the Fox family finally settled down in Vancouver when William Fox retired.
His First TV Role
Michael was interested in acting from a very early age. At the age of fifteen, he was cast in the sitcom Leo and Me as a young man living on a decrepit yacht with his uncle. Four members of the Leo and Me cast and crew went on to develop Parkinson’s disease, leading many to speculate that there was some underlying factor linking the cases.
Moving To The States
In 1979, Fox moved to LA to further his acting career. He registered with the Screen Actors Guild and discovered there was already another actor registered under the name ‘Michael Fox’. Michael added the ‘J’ to his name in honour of the Bonnie and Clyde actor, Michael J. Pollard.
His Big Break
After appearing in a couple of movies, Michael landed the role that would catapult him to stardom when he was cast as the character Alex in the NBC sitcom, Family Ties. The show was a huge success, earning Michael three Emmy awards and a Golden Globe. The hit sitcom ran for seven seasons from 1982 to 1989.
It was on the set of Family Ties that Michael met his future wife, Tracy Pollan. Born in New York on the 22nd of June 1960, Tracy hailed from a prominent Jewish family and had studied acting at the prestigious Lee Strasburg Institute. She was cast as the character Ellen Reed in Family Ties in 1985, and stayed with the show for two years.
Hitting It Off
Tracy had been in a relationship with the actor Kevin Bacon before she met Michael in 1985. The pair first met on the set of Family Ties. They met up again when Tracy was cast in Bright Lights, Big City, a movie in which Michael was playing one of the lead roles. Michael asked Tracy went out for dinner one night and the two hit it off.
Tying The Knot
Tracy and Michael tied the knot on July the 16th 1988. They would go on to have four children together. The first was Sam, who was born in 1989; next came twins Aquinnah and Schuyler in 1995 and finally a third daughter, Esmé, who was born in 2001.
Back To The Future
As Michael and Tracy were first meeting, the young Canadian was cast as the character Marty McFly in Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 fantasy feature, Back to the Future. The movie was a huge commercial and critical success, spending eight consecutive weeks at the top of the US movie charts and grossing $381 million at the box office – a huge sum for the time.
His Career Goes From Strength To Strength
Back to the Future and its two highly successful sequels catapulted Michael to worldwide stardom. He followed the movie up with hits such as Teen Wolf, Bright Lights, Big City and Casualties of War, a gritty Vietnam War movie for which Michael won a lot of praise for his acting. Michael was riding high as the 1990s approached, but clouds were beginning to gather on the horizon.
A Devastating Diagnosis
Michael scored another big hit in 1991 with the charming romantic comedy, Doc Hollywood. He followed this up with the cop comedy, The Hard Way. Unbeknown to his fellow actors, he had been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease in 1991. His doctors told him he had ten years of work left in him before the disease fully took hold.
Leaning On His Wife
Michael was devastated when he received the diagnosis. His wife became his rock. “When I told her about the Parkinson’s I said to her, ‘Are you in for this?’ and she said, ‘I’m in for it.’ And that was it,” he told the Guardian newspaper in an interview. “It was still a struggle but that was a really great moment. She is so funny and she puts up with my happy idiot persona.”
Michael went off the rails when he received his diagnosis, and turned to alcohol for comfort. His drinking soon grew out of control. Luckily, Tracy was there to pick up the pieces and nudge him towards getting help. “I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for Tracy, I don’t doubt that,” he later said. With Tracy’s help, Michael kicked the drink for good in 1998.
Carrying On Regardless
Despite the diagnosis, Michael continued to act in movies throughout the 1990s. His last starring role was in the Peter Jackson-directed supernatural comedy The Frighteners. He also landed smaller roles in The American President and Mars Attacks! As his disease progressed, Micheal turned more and more to voice work, notably in 1999’s Stuart Little and its two sequels.
On television, Michael scored another big hit with the sitcom, Spin City. He appeared in three seasons of the show before semi-retiring from acting in 2000. Since then, he’s made guest appearances in several TV shows including Scrubs, Rescue Me, The Good Wife and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Becoming A Parkinson’s Advocate
In 1998, Michael went public with his diagnosis. Since then, he has been a very vocal advocate for Parkinson’s awareness and research. In 2000, he founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which raises money for research into the disease with the hope a cure will one day be found. Michael appeared alongside the late Muhammad Ali before a Senate committee, talking to senators about providing more Parkinson’s research funding.
His Own Show
Despite his debilitating condition, Michael has continued to work. In 2012, he starred in the lead role of the NBC sitcom, The Michael J. Fox Show. The show followed the fortunes of a former news anchor who has to deal with a Parkinson’s diagnosis. Michael’s wife Tracy made a cameo appearance in one episode.
Lending His Likeness
The Michael J. Fox Show was cancelled after just one season. Since then, Michael has allowed his likeness to be used in the Back to the Future adventure game, as well as providing voices for an older Marty McFly and Marty’s ancestor, Willie McFly. He was also cast as a recurring character in the 2018 Keifer Sutherland political drama, Designated Survivor.
The Secret To His Marriage’s Success
Throughout it all, Michael’s wife Tracy has been by his side. He says appreciating each other is the secret to a long and happy marriage. “Find the best things about you and the best things about life and celebrate them,” the actor optimistically said.
Trusting One Another
Tracy, meanwhile, says that the key to a happy marriage is trust. “Just give each other the benefit of the doubt,” she says. “He assumes I’m doing the best I can.” Trust and appreciation – sounds like Michael and his wife Tracy have hit on a winning combination!
Being diagnosed with such a debilitating illness as Parkinson’s disease could have finished off Michael J. Fox for good. Luckily, with the support of his loving wife Tracy and the couple’s four children, the actor has come to terms with his illness and forged out a career for himself that many didn’t think possible when he revealed he had the disease back in 1998. “His optimistic worldview about everything is just so powerful,” says Tracy. “Michael doesn’t worry about the future.”