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Old 03-10-2009, 05:04 PM   #1
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Default Interview with Michael J. Fox

http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/family/celebrity/michael-j-fox-interview

Interview with Michael J. Fox

A decade ago, he revealed his Parkinson's diagnosis. Now, in an unflinchingly honest conversation with Good Housekeeping's editor in chief, Rosemary Ellis, Michael J. Fox shares what life is like.



Rosemary Ellis: In your new book, Always Looking Up, you write that, ironically, you had to quit your day job to do your life's work. How did you realize that was your life's work, and where are you with it right now?

Michael J. Fox: Well, the first part of my life was to be an actor and maybe have some success at that. Then [it was time] to find somebody to be in a relationship with and have a life that way. Because of Parkinson's, I had to change: How can I be of service here? Is there something unique to my situation that I can use to help people? I did not have the wherewithal to invent that. It just happened in front of me and had me join in.


RE: But you had to recognize and seize it, and not everybody does that.

MJF: It is about trying to still the voices in your head — the monkey brain that's saying, "Gotta do this, gotta do that" — and trying to really listen. I heard a guy at a congressional hearing say that Parkinson's is going to be cured in five years. I was like, "What did he say?" It was the first I heard of that, and it turned out not to be true, but that just fed into the next thing. Then, Lance Armstrong showed up, and I started talking to him; I saw all these people with cancer who followed him to Paris for the Tour de France, and I saw the difference he was making in their lives. That put it together for me...having it be not so much about me, but [my being] a vehicle for it.


RE: To have it be bigger than you.

MJF: Right. Now I look back at the foundation and what we've been able to do. We have certainly not met all our goals yet, but steps have been taken. When I started it, I thought, I'm not smart enough to do this. I had no experience in management, no experience in administration, no experience in nonprofit; but then this phrase came into my head: I only have to be smart enough to find people who are smarter than me; I only have to be smart enough to recognize who knows more than me.


RE: In this book, you reveal — pretty entertainingly, I have to say — exactly what a steep learning curve you were on. What are the milestones you are proudest of?

MJF: At first, it was uncomfortable. Nobody likes to say, "Hey, look at me!" I got this thing, and I spent seven years hiding it. It was counterintuitive for me to do that, but almost instantly [after my announcement], I saw the first couple of days the coverage was about, you know, "Fox's Parkinson's, blah, blah, blah." Then, two days after that, I saw the coverage turn. It started to become, "Can young people get Parkinson's?" All of a sudden, the conversation turned to become about that. And that was one of the first eye-opening things.

Also, at first, I let different foundations come and talk to me about what they were doing. I didn't really find anything that fit what I thought I could do. I didn't just want to be a poster boy and sign on to publicize somebody else's method of operations. If I was going to put myself out there, I wanted to make sure that it was to an end. So I got involved with this congressional hearing about Parkinson's being underfunded. I testified about that.


RE: You have been very vocal about there having been a lot of political impediments to medical research in the past eight years. What do you expect President Obama's administration to achieve on the health-care front?

MJF: I think that legislation will be passed to create federal funding for stem cell research and move ahead on that front. A bigger area that I think is already on their agenda is getting health-care coverage for everybody — that is very important. Every time President Obama talked about preexisting conditions, it always rang a bell for me. I know that is a real [important] thing in the Parkinson's community, because by the time you start to exhibit symptoms — whether, as in my case, a twitching pinkie or whatever — 80 percent of the cells are already gone, so you've essentially had Parkinson's for a while by then. So it's a hammer that people get hit with; they really fear losing their insurance.


Rosemary Ellis: Let's talk about your marriage. In your book Lucky Man, which Good Housekeeping excerpted in 2002, you wrote very eloquently about how you and Tracy [Pollan] met, fell in love, and weathered your Parkinson's diagnosis together. In this new book, what aspect of your marriage did you want to focus on?

Michael J. Fox: Here's the thing with Tracy and me: We like focusing more on the comedy and less on the drama. The secret to a good marriage, as far as I am concerned, is a joke I make: Keep the fights clean and the sex dirty. Tracy and I are taken aback sometimes when people come up to us and give me this sad moon face and then they give Tracy a hug, and say, "You are so strong." We roll our eyes at each other, because we are having a really good time.


RE: What's your favorite way to spend a date night with Tracy?

MJF: We go out to dinner and maybe go to a movie, just the same as anybody else. A lot of times our son hitchhikes along. He's in college now, so it's a little easier.


RE: What are your favorite little family rituals?

MJF: We'll go up to the country, and it's not unusual to make popcorn and then for all six of us to climb into bed and watch TV — just bodies everywhere. We are a really affectionate family, and we laugh a lot.
And you know, with Parkinson's, my kids just make the transition. If I am reaching for something, they will just do it and carry on. Again, people say to me, "How do you cope?" And I think, Cope?! It's really hard to even think that way. Sometimes I'll stop and think, Am I selling short the experience my family is having? But then I'll look back at it and say, no — they're having fun.


RE: And don't you think they are learning things that, frankly, they wouldn't learn otherwise?

MJF: Yes: empathy, resilience, and also sorting out what's important from what's not — things like vanity. I saw a birthday card the other day, and it said, "If you didn't know how old you were, how old would you think you were?" I started changing it in my mind right away to, "If you didn't know how sick you were, how sick would you think you were?"


RE: And what was the answer to that question?

MJF: Not very much, not very sick. It just becomes what it is. Like right now, I'm just weathering this [tremor] as I'm talking to you; I just need to pace around a little bit. [I've learned] to make the separation: It's purely a physical thing, and if you don't care what it looks like and it really does not feel that bad, then it's not that big a deal. It's just distracting. So [getting up] I am going to walk around for a second.


RE: What has being a dad taught you about coping with the disease and with life?

MJF: It has taught me that there is not one moment that is frozen in time. There is no better example than to watch four kids grow up. For instance, I'm not feeling particularly steady right now, but this is not going to last for more than a couple of minutes. Same with raising kids. There are no moments you have frozen in amber. It's moving, it's changing, so appreciate what's good about right now and be ready for what's next.


Rosemary Ellis: Good Housekeeping has 25 million readers every month, so it's fair to assume that a number of them are dealing with challenges related to a chronic illness. What would be your advice to them?

Michael J. Fox: I would say look at the choices you have, as opposed to the choices that have been taken away from you. Because in those choices, there are whole worlds of strength and new ways to look at things. Again, everybody has tough situations — I don't mean to be pat about how they should deal with them. Certainly people have a lot tougher situations than I've had to deal with. But I will say we are all dying from the moment we are born. This is not just rehearsal.


RE: What surprising truths have you learned about yourself since this diagnosis? What aspects of your personality did you maybe not even realize were there from before?

MJF: When I was younger, I was always described as happy-go-lucky. Then I drank and I partied — did all that stuff that might tell you maybe there was a little bit of untruth in that [description]. Now, the surprising thing is that when I say stuff, I actually mean it. I don't have to do the work of trying to formulate my point of view. It just is. And it's surprising how much I love life. I just really have a good time.


RE: At a fund-raiser in New York, you recently played guitar with The Who, which I understand was always a dream of yours. What else is on your list — or do you even have a list?

MJF: I don't really have a list. But there are things I've always wanted to do. Things I may not be able to do, but I never really ruled them out — like running a marathon. It's all a matter of timing for me. I suppose I could probably do it if I planned it out right with medication. I don't set a whole lot of goals. It smacks a little bit of will to me, and I find that will is not the way to go for me.


RE: One of my favorite quotes is from Louis Pasteur, who said, "Chance favors the prepared mind." Does that idea resonate for you?

MJF: It's why the book is called Always Looking Up. People say, "How do you achieve this?" And you hear, "Just keep your head down." But I find the opposite is true: Keep your head up.


RE: That's funny; that leads right into my next question, which is how do you cultivate faith?

MJF: It's just constantly being in the now; knowing you don't get to choose whether you move forward. You're going to move forward, so don't fight it. It's like with kids, you pick your battles. I remember my son wanted to go to bed with his cowboy boots on, and we had this fight for like an hour. Then I realized that the only good reason I had for him not to do it is because I didn't want him to. There was really no other reason. And finally I said, "OK, fine." It was a great victory for me, because I realized it doesn't really matter.


RE: Let me ask you this: You love hockey, and you love playing the guitar. Both require a lot of coordination (as does acting). Are there any physical activities that are restorative or therapeutic for you? What do you like to do?

MJF: I love hiking around our property in Connecticut; we go mud-stomping with the kids. I like being outside and doing anything with them. Oh, and one of the rules I have now is whenever my kids say, "Can you look at this?" or "Can I ask you something?" or "Can you come here for a minute?" no matter what I am doing, I say yes instead of saying, "Just a sec." They never abuse the privilege, and I never once regretted it. What they took me away to do was never less important than what I was doing already.


RE: One last question. Finish this sentence: In my life, I felt like I'd earned the Good Housekeeping Seal when...

MJF: To tell you the truth, when I just got diagnosed, I quit drinking, and Tracy and I were having probably the toughest time we've had in our marriage. It was early on, and we came through it. We had talked about having more kids, and for a while there, every time I brought it up, she changed the subject. I'd gone through all this stuff and really changed the way I looked at things, the way I looked at life. And then one day we were watching Sam run through the bushes with one of his cousins, and Tracy turned to me and said, "He'd be a great brother." I knew then that she was ready to have more kids; that she trusted me [enough] to have more kids with me. And the Good Housekeeping Seal was when we got the sonogram, and it was twins. That's when you kinda knew. An extra one, a bonus baby.


RE: A bonus baby...and then yet another bonus baby.

MJF: Yeah, with Esmι, it was like, Tracy and I were both in our early 40s and decided, well, it just needs to be a little noisier!


Save the Date -- MICHAEL J. FOX'S TV SPECIAL Join Michael J. Fox as he travels the world to talk to people who have overcome great obstacles to find full and happy lives. Look for the one-hour special, Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, on ABC, airing April 23, 2009, 10 p.m. (ET)
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Old 03-10-2009, 06:18 PM   #2
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Great interview, Janice! Thanks for sharing it with us.
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Old 03-10-2009, 10:52 PM   #3
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Thanks for the excerpt, Janice. It was a great read.

I can't wait for the special. Sounds good.
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Old 03-11-2009, 01:54 AM   #4
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Thanks Janice. That was a good article.
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