LOS ANGELES—Michael J. Fox is always positive, always optimistic, always inspiring -- until he’s not. In a profound, wide-ranging, often funny interview with AARP The Magazine, Fox discusses how he has emerged from a period of health and emotional challenges that included recovering from major surgery and a shattered left arm that required a steel plate and 19 screws to repair with even greater focus and a deeper understanding of his purpose and joys. As he approaches the 30-year anniversary of his Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis, Fox still finds new ways to enjoy life and make a difference.
Fox spent several decades of his celebrated career telling stories on screens, but as he approached his 60th birthday this June, his increasingly unreliable speech forced him to retire from acting. Led by his growing sense of gratitude, the critically acclaimed actor has found his present purpose – pioneering research for his self-titled foundation which is dedicated to finding a cure and improved therapies for his disease.
The following are excerpts from ATM’s December/January 2022 cover story featuring Michael J. Fox. The issue is available in homes starting in December and online now at aarp.org/magazine.
On getting through the darkness:
“As I came through that darkness, I also had an insight about my father-in-law, who had passed away and always espoused gratitude and acceptance and confidence. And I started to notice things I was grateful for and the way other people would respond to difficulty with gratitude. I concluded that gratitude makes optimism sustainable.”
On finding optimism:
“If you don’t think you have anything to be grateful for, keep looking. Because you don’t just receive optimism. You can’t wait for things to be great and then be grateful for that. You’ve got to behave in a way that promotes that.”
On keeping his career alive:
“When I couldn’t act the way I used to act, I found new ways to act.”
On starting the Michael J. Fox Foundation:
“We created what has become this giant network of patients, scientists and institutions. We’ve put more than a billion dollars into it. And patients are the key. Now they guide our agenda and have been critical, for example, to our promising work in trying to find biomarkers for Parkinson’s, which would allow us to identify the disease in people before symptoms are evident, and to treat it pro-actively and get rid of it. And we’ve got a lot of treatments that have gone through the FDA, and we’ve developed a great relationship with pharma researchers on Parkinson’s drug development. There are now better drugs and more effective treatments for a lot of the side effects and other aspects of the condition, and we helped make that happen.”
On his legacy:
“I hope people will enjoy my work as an actor and get something from it. At a deeper level, I hope people see sincerity in the things I’ve said and done. If I’ve positively helped anybody with Parkinson’s, that’s great, too. … Beyond that, and this is kind of a vanity thing – a lot of really great guitarists have come up to me over the years and said they picked up the guitar because of the “Johnny B. Goode” scene in Back to the Future. If I did anything in this life, I got John Mayer to pick up the guitar.”
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AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation's largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit www.aarp.org, www.aarp.org/espanol or follow @AARP, @AARPenEspanol and @AARPadvocates, @AliadosAdelante on social media.