Michael J. Fox if famous for many things – Family Ties, Teen Wolf, Back to the Future, and leaving the hit sitcom Spin City because his Parkinson's disease had made it difficult for him to continue acting.
He stopped by the studio this morning to talk about his career, his new TV show – The Michael J. Fox Show – and about living with the disease that has come to almost define him.
Michael came to most American's attention as republican Michael P. Keaton on Family Ties. Creator Gary David Goldberg campaigned hard for Michael to land the lead role – even when NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff wanted him fired, because he felt Michael wasn't the kind of teen idol who would "ever be on a lunchbox."
Gary even allowed Michael to take the lead role in Back to the Future, trusting that he could play both parts at the same time. Michael didn't even have to audition for Marty McFly – Eric Stoltz had the role and, after five weeks of shooting, he was replaced by Michael, after he got the green light from Family Ties. When the movie became an insane hit, his face wound up on a lunchbox, and he sent one to Brandon Tartikoff, who kept it on his desk for the rest of his life.
"[Masturbation] is like a bad hand job" - Michael J Fox, on sex and Parkinson's disease
At 29 years-old, Michael was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and told that he had about 10 good working years left. Michael likened it to standing in the middle of a street in cement shoes, a bus was coming, he just didn't know when.
He started to drink heavily for a short period, until his wife, Tracy Pollan, looked at him one day and said "is this what you want?" It wasn't and he quit, heading into AA.
He's learned to live with the disease. Masturbation, he admits, is "like a bad hand job." Sex can still be pretty great, but sometimes he'll do something in bed and if his wife says "do that again!" he has to tell her that he can't, it was involuntary. To his kids, he's just "shaky Dad."
So now, after leaving a sitcom because of Parkinson's disease, he is starring in a brand-new sitcom about a guy with Parkinson's disease. Sometimes he even has to "put on" the symptoms if the scene calls for it, which he admitted was a little confusing.
At the end of the interview, Eric the Actor called in and asked if Michael thought there would be more parts for disabled actors (read: himself) in the future. Michael said he hoped so, but he hopes they'd be allowed to play assholes like anybody else. Howard said Eric plays an asshole every day.
What a little pioneer!