Michael J. Fox must be one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood. After catapulting to fame in the 1980s, the Canadian actor took the world by storm on both the silver and small screens. Fox is the very definition of a star between his role on Family Ties and the Back to the Future trilogy.
However, in recent years he has been battling for his life every day. Although he has backed away from the limelight to focus on his health, he hasn’t left the entertainment industry entirely. Find out how he quickly rose to fame and became the loveable actor we know today.
A Star Is Born in Canada
On June 9, 1961, William and Phyllis Fox welcomed their son Michael Andrew Fox in Edmonton, Canada. His mother worked as a payroll clerk and actress while his father served with the Canadian Forces and worked as a police officer. Throughout his childhood, Fox and his family moved because of his father’s career.
After moving from city to city, Fox and his family settled in Burnaby, a large suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, when his father retired in 1971. Fox attended Burnaby Central Secondary School, where he found a love for acting, and it didn’t take long for him to get his first professional acting gig.
Small Screen Debut
At age 15, Fox made his small screen debut on the Canadian TV series Leo and Me. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation produced it, and it was Fox’s first recurring role. He had a guest role on The Magic Lie before that, but he was only in one episode as Nicky.
After having a 12-episode run on the series, Fox got another few smaller roles in television short films. Three years after his acting debut, Fox decided to drop out of high school during his senior year and move to LA when he was 18 because he knew it would benefit his career.
An American Discovery
Shortly after he moved to Los Angeles, Fox was discovered by producer Ronald Shedlo and made his American debut in the TV film Letters From Frank. He was credited under the name “Michael Fox.” After this role, Fox appeared in an episode of Lou Grant as the character Paul Stone.
It wasn’t smooth sailing from the start. He struggled to find jobs when he first got to Hollywood and faced his fair share of rejection. In an interview with Men’s Health, Fox said, “People turned me down because I was too short and funny-looking, and I had a funny accent.”
What Is Michael J. Fox’s Middle Name?
After his first credited TV role in the US, Fox went to register his name with the Screen Actors Guild. He was going to use Michael Fox, but that name was already registered by a veteran actor. Because SAG requires actors to register a unique name to avoid credit ambiguities, he had to think of another name.
He didn’t like the sound of “Michael A. Fox,” and he also didn’t want to use his middle name or variations of it. Can you imagine him as Andrew or Andy Fox? He couldn’t either, so he chose the name Michael J. Fox as a tribute to actor Michael J. Pollard.
Big Screen Debut
A year after his first TV role, Fox made his movie debut in 1980. He was featured in the high school comedy called Midnight Madness. The film starred David Naughton, Stephen Furst, and Maggie Roswell. At the time, he was still credited as Michael Fox.
Fox played Scott Larson, and this led to him getting other roles. After the film, he played Willy-Joe Hall in Palmerstown, USA, for 11 episodes. Then in 1982, he got his first movie role as Michael J. Fox in the film Class of 1984.
We’ll Call You
After he had a few acting roles under his belt, Fox auditioned for the lead role in a new series called Family Ties. He was considered for the part of Alex P. Keaton, but he had one problem with the audition process; he didn’t have a landline in his home.
Fox had to go to a Hollywood payphone, which is rather annoying if you are waiting for someone else to call you. He would stay in the phone booth between four and five, which is when he told the producers he would be able to talk. Luckily, he was there to answer the phone and got the part. oHo
He Wasn’t the First Choice
Some people get these two confused, so it isn’t surprising that they were competing for the same role. Initially, the part of Alex P. Keaton was offered to Matthew Broderick, fresh off his hit film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. However, Broderick refused to commit to a long-term TV contract.
Instead, the producers picked Fox, and it took his career to a new level. He was lucky because he was scrounging for money right before this breakout role. Fox was so low on cash that he sold part of his sectional couch to his neighbor to get some extra money.
Too Short for TV
By the fourth episode of Family Ties, Fox’s performance had received so much positive feedback that his character was made the main focus of the series. However, not everyone was happy about that. One of the show’s producers, Brandon Tartikoff, wanted Fox replaced.
One of the reasons Tartikoff was not a fan of Fox was because he thought he was too short for TV. He tried to have Fox replaced and even said, “This is not the kind of face you’ll ever see on a lunchbox. Boy, was he wrong!
Who Is Michael J. Fox Married To?
Besides becoming a TV star, Family Ties changed Fox’s life because he met his future wife. In the series, Fox’s character had a girlfriend named Ellen, who was played by Tracy Pollan. She joined the cast in 1985 for Season 4, and they had chemistry on and off camera.
Pollan was on the show for 15 episodes over the course of Seasons 4 and 5, and that was enough time for her and Fox to start dating in real life. A year before Family Ties ended, Fox and Pollan got married in Arlington, Vermont.
Everything Happens for a Reason
When director Robert Zemeckis was casting the part of Marty McFly for the 1985 film Back to the Future, he initially wanted Fox for the role after seeing him on Family Ties. Initially, he was unavailable because he was working more while his Family Ties costar was on maternity leave.
Instead, the role was given to Eric Stoltz, but after six weeks of filming, the producers realized he wasn’t suitable for the job. Luckily, Fox managed to work out a schedule and was able to film both Back to the Future and Family Ties simultaneously.
No New Skills
Although there were skateboarding scenes in Back to the Future, Fox didn’t actually have to learn how to skateboard. Surprisingly, he already knew how to skateboard from his high school days. However, that didn’t mean he didn’t have some help.
In many of the scenes, Fox is actually skateboarding, but they did use a stuntman for some of the more challenging takes. There were many forms of skateboarding in the Back to the Future trilogy, between the regular skateboard and the hoverboard. It was a good thing he didn’t have to learn.
Did Michael J. Fox Sing in Back to the Future?
In one of the most iconic scenes in Back to the Future, Fox sings “Johnny B. Goode” during his parents’ prom. He didn’t know the song was ahead of its time, and the music style wouldn’t be popular for another few years. However, he wasn’t actually singing.
Fox isn’t known for his singing talents, so they used Mark Campbell, who would also provide work on the soundtracks of Finding Graceland and 101 Dalmatians. Fox might be a great lip singer, but he was definitely not singing in that scene.
One of the most recurring trends in Fox’s early career was that he usually played characters who were younger than his actual age. He had a baby-face in the early part of his career, which was good for him because he could get roles of high school students and pass for a teenager well into his 20s.
Fox was 23 years old when he played 17-year-old Marty McFly in Back to the Future. He was 21 when he played Alex P. Keaton, who was in high school in Family Ties. Fox was also 19 when he played a 15-year-old character in Midnight Madness.
An Unfortunately Eventful Year
Over the course of one year, Fox went through a roller coaster of emotions. Between 1989 and 1990, Fox filmed the second and third Back to the Future movies, which was a lot of work. On top of everything, his father passed away from a heart attack, and his son was born.
He was going through all the ups and downs of having two movies come out, becoming a father, and losing his father within a short period of time. However, he managed to handle it well and power through such an emotional time.
The Best Surprise
When producers decided to make a sequel to Back to the Future, Fox found out when everyone else did. He was watching Back to the Future in a cinema and was shocked to see the words “To be continued” at the end of the film.
After the movie, he quickly called his agent to confirm that he would be involved in the next film. Fox was elated to find out that he would get to work with many of the actors from the first film again and continue the story that everyone loved.
The dynamic between Marty McFly and Doc Brown was something that made the movie so successful. It turns out that Fox and Christopher Lloyd’s friendship lasted well past the trilogy. They acted in all three films together and formed a close bond.
Lloyd and Fox later appeared together in Spin City and The Michael Fox Show. Despite their age difference, they enjoyed working together, and Lloyd always hoped he could reprise his role alongside Fox for a Back to the Future IV because the fans always wanted more.
He Could Have Been Robin
Fox nearly had the chance to work with Tim Burton back in 1989. When Burton was developing the Batman film, people behind the production considered introducing the character of Robin in that film. Apparently, Fox was the first choice for the role.
Unfortunately, the role of Robin was scrapped from that movie. Batman fans will never know what that would have been like. Luckily, Fox got a chance to work with Burton on the 1996 film Mars Attacks!
His Last Film
In 1996, Fox was one of the many famous actors to appear in Tim Burton’s sci-fi comedy Mars Attacks! He played Jason Stone alongside names like Sarah Jessica Parker, Glen Close, Jack Nicholson, Martin Short, and Natalie Portman. The film became a cult classic.
Most people don’t realize that this was one of the last movies Fox ever physically appeared in. While he has lent his voice for other films, he hasn’t been back in front of the camera since 1996. His last major film was The Frighteners because he couldn’t physically handle all the work anymore.
What Disease Does Michael J. Fox Have?
In 1991, Fox was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease after he started showing symptoms on the set of Doc Hollywood. Fox took the news hard and started drinking when he first found out the news. However, he eventually came to terms with the diagnosis.
He tried to press on with his work, but by 1996, working long hours on movie sets was too much for him. He did his last physical film in 1996 and transitioned to working behind the camera after that. Fox didn’t announce his diagnosis to the public until 1998.
Make the Movie Before He’s Too Old
Movies are sometimes made about famous movie stars or historical figures, and the discussions can begin when they are clinging to life. Before his death in 1986, Hollywood actor James Cagney famously picked Fox to play him in a biopic of his life.
However, the film has yet to be made, and sadly for Cagney, Fox wouldn’t be the one to play him because he is now retired. Filmmakers didn’t take advantage of Fox’s youth while they could and didn’t think a biopic of Cagney would be worth making at the time.
Sean Penn Was a Bully
In one of Fox’s rare dramatic performances, he starred in the acclaimed Vietnam War film Casualties of War. Sean Penn was also in the film, and he played the antagonist to Fox’s character. Once the cameras stopped rolling, Penn would continue to go to great lengths to get reactions out of Fox.
Penn would verbally insult Fox by dismissing him as a glorified TV actor, and he would continue to bully him until he got a reaction. They ended up not on speaking terms for most of the movie, but Fox respected Penn as an actor and his unique methods.
Affecting His Work
Because of Parkinson’s disease, Fox started showing physical symptoms. He would often hide his left hand from the camera while shooting Spin City in the late-‘90s. Sadly, Fox decided to leave the series in 2000 because of the struggles with Parkinson’s.
Fox appeared in 100 episodes and expressed pride in the cast, writers, and creative team. However, he said he couldn’t keep up with the demands of the weekly series. Working long hours put a lot of stress on his body and only exacerbated his symptoms.
Fox Raised $1 Billion
Because of his own struggles, Fox has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about Parkinson’s Disease. To date, he has raised $1 billion to help find a cure for Parkinson’s, and he won’t stop until it happens. He launched the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in 2000.
The foundation is the world’s largest non-profit funder of Parkinson’s drug development. Fox is widely admired for his tireless work as a patient advocate. The New York Times even called him “the most credible voice on Parkinson’s research in the world.” He is transforming the world.
Not a Fan of Teen Wolf
In 1985, Fox starred in Teen Wolf, and it gained a significant fanbase. Even today, people are huge fans of the movie, but there is one person who is not a fan of the film. Fox hates the movie and refuses to ever return for a sequel.
Fox once said, “Steven Spielberg’s down the road making great films, and I’m playing a werewolf.” Maybe he hated it so much because he wasn’t allowed to eat solid food while he was in the makeup. Regardless of the reason, it is not a project he is proud of.
Cuteness Doesn’t Last Forever
Fox decided to drop out of high school before the end of his senior year, and some of his teachers were not supportive of the decision. In a 2011 interview with David Letterman, Fox recalled the moment he approached a teacher to share that he was leaving school.
According to Fox, the teacher said, “Fox, you’re not going to be cute forever.” He responded, “Maybe just long enough, sir.” Well, it turns out they were both right because Fox was cute enough to make iconic movies and become an international star.
Despite working primarily in the US, Fox has never forgotten where he came from. He has held dual citizenship and participated in the closing ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Just because he moved to the US doesn’t mean Canada doesn’t care about him anymore.
Canada has honored Fox as an accomplished citizen for all his famous work in the US. In 2000, Fox received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto. Ten years later, Fox was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. However, he ran into trouble with his citizenship.
No Turning Back
When Fox first moved to the US, some of his time living there was not exactly legal. He was also too scared to return to Canada because he feared that he wouldn’t be able to come back to the United States. That would have significantly affected his acting career.
Fox had to hire an immigration lawyer to straighten out his situation and help him become a citizen. Who knows if he would have been able to film all our favorite movies if he were sent back to Canada? Today his is a dual citizen of the US and Canada.
It’s Always the Fence
There are a few recurring themes in Fox’s movies, either by choice or coincidence. One of them is his knack for driving cars into fences. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly famously drives the DeLorean into a fence. He also does that in two other films.
Coincidentally, Fox’s characters in Doc Hollywood and The Frighteners also do the same thing. Does Fox have something against fences, or is he just a terrible driver? We may never know, but the fences can feel safe because he is no longer driving into them.
Awards for Days
There is no denying the Fox is a very talented actor. To date, Fox has been nominated for around 60 awards. He won four Golden Globes for Family Ties and Spin City. He has also won five Emmy awards. Fox is highly celebrated in the acting community for all his work.
Surprisingly, although he is not a singer, Fox has won a Grammy for his spoken word album titled “Always Looking Up.” Besides his acting awards, Fox also received an honorary doctorate from Karolinska Institute in Sweden, which is the same institute that awards the Nobel Prize in the medicine category.
Lending a Helping Hand
Fox has always been a kind-hearted person who cares about others struggling. His friend Selma Blair was diagnosed with MS, and she turned to him for advice on coping with a life-altering health condition. Because he was so public with his health journey, she felt comfortable turning to him.
Blair said Fox gives her a lot of hope, and he is always there when she needs a friend. She shared a selfie of her and Fox on Instagram to thank him for his support because they aren’t alone in their health battles. Blair also said it was fun to have Fox’s email.
One More Appearance
While Fox hasn’t starred in a feature film since 1996, he did make a cameo in a movie in 2014. He played himself in a scene in Annie, a remake of the classic musical. He was also in the film See You Yesterday for a small cameo as Mr. Lockhart.
While his film career tapered off, Fox was recently in two episodes of The Good Fight as Louis Canning. He has had a recurring role on The Good Wife for 26 episodes. While he has taken a step away from the spotlight, people can’t count him out.
The Best Revenge
We previously mentioned that producer Brandon Tartifkoff wanted Fox replaced from Family Ties because he was too short for TV and wouldn’t be on a lunch box. Well, when Fox’s career took off, he got the last laugh.
When the show’s success proved Tartikoff wrong, Fox ordered a custom lunchbox with a personal message inscribed for Tartikoff. It read, “To Brandon, this is for you to put your crow in. Love and kisses, Michael J. Fox.” Tartikoff was a good sport and kept it in his NBC office until he retired.
A True Icon
Back to the Future is easily one of the most iconic films. It was a movie that shaped the ‘80s and created a fanbase that spans across the globe. When Fox was in Bhutan, a nation located in the Himalayas, he was randomly recognized.
As Fox was walking around, he passed a group of Buddhist monks. One of them turned to look at him and said, “Marty McFly!” Fox was slightly surprised that someone recognized him in such a random place. However, it showed him how much the movie touched people globally.
The Joke’s Getting Old
Given that Fox married his on-screen girlfriend from Family Ties, it stands to reason that some people would see that as a reason to joke around with the couple. According to Fox, he and his wife are haunted by the song “At This Moment “ by Billy Vera and the Beaters.
The song was tied to their romance on Family Ties. For ten years after their wedding, the couple couldn’t get on a dance floor without someone playing the song to mess with them. We are assuming the song is not on their daily playlists.
Going Behind the Camera
Although Fox isn’t acting as often anymore, he established himself as a producer. Fox’s producing credits began with the dark comedy Coldblooded in the mid-‘90s. Since then, he was credited as a producer for Spin City, Otherwise Engaged, Hench at Home, and The Michael J. Fox Show.
Fox also starred in The Michael J. Fox show that aired on NBC. However, the show was canceled due to the 2014 Winter Olympics. The entire season never aired because they didn’t bring the show back after Olympic coverage ended, and they ultimately canceled the show for good.
He Had to Learn to Walk Again
In 2018, doctors found a tumor on Fox’s spine. Although it was non-cancerous, it was causing the actor horrible pain, and he was headed for paralysis if he didn’t have surgery. Despite the risky surgery, doctors were able to remove it without doing further damage.
After the surgery, Fox started a four-month process to learn to walk again. Slowly but surely, he started to regain his strength, and he thought the worst was behind him. Fox celebrated by vacationing with his family on Martha’s Vineyard and then returning to New York alone for work.
His Darkest Moment
When Fox returned to New York, he woke up to go to work and fell in the kitchen. The fall resulted in a badly broken arm, and Fox said, “That was definitely my darkest moment.” When he was waiting for the ambulance to come, he felt like this was his lowest moment.
Fox felt like he couldn’t find the bright side anymore and was filled with regret and pain in those moments. He also thought he wasn’t qualified to offer hope to others because he didn’t even believe things would get better.
Writing About His Experience
Fox detailed his story in his fourth memoir, No Time Like the Future. He wrote that watching old game show reruns from the ‘70s helped him through his recovery. While his arm healed, Fox had to reclaim his positive perspective to get better mentally.
Fox said, “Optimism is really rooted in gratitude. Optimism is sustainable when you keep coming back to gratitude, and what follows from that is acceptance.” Once he accepted what happened to him, Fox was able to work through the changes in his life and move forward.
How Old Is Michael J. Fox?
Fox turned 60 in June, and he says he now has a “60-year-old man’s optimism.” He is focusing on time with his four children and wife. The couple shares son Sam, twins Aquinnah and Schuyler, and daughter Esme. Fox said his gratitude is more profound now.
Fox’s life is much quieter, and he is having a good time. He said, “People don’t believe me, but I love my life.” He doesn’t do a lot of useless stuff that he used to do, and he doesn’t waste his energy. He is grateful he went through those dark times so that he could come back stronger.
He Was Given 10 Years to Live
When Fox got his diagnosis when he was 29, doctors told him he only had ten years to live. However, he has surpassed that and surprised everyone. Since his diagnosis, he has learned to find humor in the situation by realizing he shouldn’t care how other people view him.
Although he initially struggled with the way people looked at him, he eventually disconnected from that and the dread people were projecting onto him.
He’s Making His Kids Finish High School
Although it might seem a bit hypocritical, he told his kids that they’re not allowed to drop out of high school to start acting like he did. In an interview, Fox said he regrets quitting school because it was a “stupid youthful mistake.”
Fox refuses to let his kids quit school and follow in his footsteps. He is making sure they get their high school diplomas and do at least one or two years of college. Fox knows that once they are all 18, he can’t control their lives.
He Has a Theater Named After Him
Fox has a theater named after him in his hometown of Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. The theater first opened in 1993 as the “Theater at Burnaby South,” but the name was changed to the Michael J. Fox Theater. It can seat 613 people.
The theater has a professional stage, audio systems, green rooms, dressing rooms, and a gallery for visual arts and meetings. The theater supports all the arts, including music, drama, comedy, musical theater, orchestras, choirs, and thousands of dancers. Fox is proud to have his name on this theater.
He Wanted to Be a Hockey Player
Considering he grew up in Canada, it’s no surprise that Fox once dreamed of becoming a hockey player for the National Hockey League. We are sure most young boys who grow up in Canada dream of joining the NHL. Sadly, that dream didn’t work out for Fox.
Because of his small stature (he is only 5’3”), he didn’t have the right body type to be a professional hockey player. It wasn’t until he was a teenager that he finally let go of that dream and developed a love for the arts. He also learned to play the guitar.
He Loved Macaroni and Cheese
Although Fox missed out on the college experience, he definitely ate like a broke college student living in a dorm. When he first moved to Los Angeles, he was only 18 and living on his own for the first time. He barely had any money and couldn’t afford fancy meals.
Fox didn’t start landing profitable roles until he was 21, so he went without a steady paycheck for a while. During that time, he survived on packages of microwavable macaroni and cheese. If he were only eating instant ramen, he would have been the classic college kid.