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An Article from The New York Times
Out of 'Spin City' and Onto a New Stage; Michael J. Fox's Fight With Parkinson's Is Both Personal and Public
By BERNARD WEINRAUB
Published: May 24, 2000
In an odd way, Michael J. Fox said the other day, he feels liberated by his decision to reveal his nearly decade-long battle with Parkinson's disease.
''For me personally, it's been a gift, and I don't mean, 'Hey, rah, I have this thing,' '' he said quietly on the eve of his departure from the ABC show ''Spin City,'' which is broadcasting his final episode of the season tonight.
''In terms of my own evolution, against the context of my life, it's somehow easier to deal with. It's led to me to deeper thought, a greater sense of compassion, a greater sense of acceptance of things, of realizing what is my fight and what isn't my fight.''
His life now has a focus, he said as he sat in his production office at Chelsea Piers: contributing to the search for a cure for Parkinson's, the degenerative illness that causes tremors and muscle rigidity.
''The deck has really been cleared for me to help,'' said the actor, who is 38. ''The fact is I don't have financial burdens. I'm not worried about feeding my family. A lot of people can't tell anybody. I can. They can't risk losing their insurance. They can't risk opening themselves. I can.''
Sitting at a conference table, Mr. Fox gripped his left hand and arms tightly. He spoke somberly and candidly. At times he rocked forward in his chair and sipped diet soda. His recent final episode of ''Spin City'' was painful and tearful for the cast that Mr. Fox helped recruit. The tributes from Heather Locklear, the campaign finance manager and love interest; Barry Bostwick, the slightly goofy mayor; and the other actors afterward had plainly touched Mr. Fox. ''I'll miss them,'' he said, blinking hard.
Mr. Fox said he was resolved to stay upbeat. He said that the impact of the illness, coupled with the suspension of his acting career, had left him without the depression that often strikes people with Parkinson's. In fact the actor, who is wiry and a bit nervous, said he had never been engulfed by despondency.
''There's unquestionably loss, there's unquestionably compromise, there's unquestionably, if one wanted to look forward, a reason to be worried,'' he said. ''But I don't get depressed. I don't think that way. Maybe it's chemical. I mean, I think that's why I got on a bus at 18 and went to L.A. Everybody thought I was crazy.''
''You know, none of us are entitled to anything. I mean, I have clarity and I still laugh a lot. That's saying something about my life.''
Ten years ago, while making the film ''Doc Hollywood'' in Florida, Mr. Fox had a persistent tremor on the pinky of his left hand. He saw a local neurologist who told him the problem was a sports injury caused by years of playing ice hockey while growing up in Canada.
The next year his shoulder became rigid and his hand periodically shook. Jogging one afternoon in Martha's Vineyard, Mr. Fox was stopped by his wife, the actress Tracy Pollan, who had become alarmed. Mr. Fox recalled her saying: ''Get in the car. You don't know what you look like. Your left side is not moving. Only the right side is moving. It doesn't look good.''
Within days Mr. Fox was seeing a neurologist in Manhattan, where the couple live with their three children. The diagnosis was immediate.
Parkinson's, which may affect as many as a million Americans, is often treated with the drug levodopa, or L-dopa, and other medications to limit the symptoms.
The diagnosis stunned the actor. For one thing, the disease most often strikes people over 40.
''I had no clue; he could have spoken to me in Latvian,'' Mr. Fox related. ''It took awhile for me to process it. I went for second opinions.''
He shook his head. ''It's belligerent; it's a bear. But if I start whining, please, somebody, hit me with a hammer. My life has been front-loaded with blessings.''
Mr. Fox, who became a television star in the 1980's sitcom ''Family Ties,'' has been the anchor of ''Spin City'' on ABC for four years, playing a hard-driving New York City deputy mayor. Although he will continue as a producer and may appear on one or two episodes next year, ''Spin City'' will now be made in Los Angeles, and Charlie Sheen will take his role.
Mr. Fox said that the physical strain of the disease and his weariness at hiding it from the public led to his decision. ''This big idea that the show must go on -- after a while it just didn't seem as compelling an idea,'' he said. ''It just seemed like the right time.''
He said he had made his decision to leave and focus on fighting the disease, both personally and with fund-raising and public awareness, when the show reached its 100th episode. ''I never envisioned myself as the poster boy for anything,'' he said. ''I hope I'm not doing that now. I hope it's more thoughtful than that. Would I rather be on magazine covers now for a big opening weekend or something like that as opposed to having a degenerative brain disease? Yeah. But it's part of my life, part of my family's life.''
Generally, Parkinson's is far more common among people over 55, affecting slightly more men than women. It is caused by the death of nerve cells and the depletion of a neurotransmitter in the brain. According to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, ''There is no cure for Parkinson disease, but medicine and surgery can be beneficial.'' The problem is that after five years or so, drug combinations often lose their effectiveness, leading to greater tremors.
Mr. Fox said he had decided late in 1998 during a vacation with his family on St. John's to disclose the illness and end his acting involvement on ''Spin City.''
He said his condition, mostly tremors, had worsened since 1992 despite brain surgery in 1998 to ease the tremors. He said that the stress of starring in a television series and producing it probably worsened his condition and that he didn't need as much medication on vacation.
''I'd go on these respites and cut back on medication and not be as symptomatic,'' he said. ''And then I'd come back and by the third day it was a similar struggle. But I can't live on the beach. I don't want to be Robinson Crusoe.''
In his years making ''Spin City,'' only a few people were aware of his condition. These included Gary David Goldberg, a creator of the show, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, a founder of DreamWorks, which produced the show, its only television success so far.
Mr. Katzenberg said that Mr. Fox had told him and Mr. Goldberg of the illness about two years ago. ''There were a number of adjustments we needed to do to help him do his work,'' Mr. Katzenberg said. There was the schedule he worked, and there was managing his medical treatment, which must be regular. ''He didn't want people to know, he didn't want people feeling sorry for him.''
Mr. Fox's career has been more successful in television than in movies. Like some other television stars, his efforts in feature films left him disappointed despite the huge success of the ''Back to the Future'' series. In recent years his films have included such mishaps as ''Life With Mikey'' and ''Greedy.'' But he was also the voice of Stuart Little in the recent hit of that name.
He is now focusing on the creation of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research and its Web site, www.michaeljfox.org. ''Not in any way do I think I'm bringing any kind of great intellect or insight to Parkinson's,'' Mr. Fox said. ''But there's just this weird energy called celebrity that I bring to it. And while that's happening, I'm learning and understanding.'' He said that as long as he takes his medication, he can still play sports and fully participate in the physical life of his family, which includes a boy, Sam, 10, and twin 5-year-old girls, Aquinnah and Schuyler. But he said that his family has faced an adjustment.
He said that when his daughters ask him to comb their hair before school, he tells them, ''I can't do your hair in the morning because my hands don't work as well in the morning.''
The actor said that what worried him about going public with the illness was pity. ''Pity to me is a step away from abuse,'' he said. ''I don't trust it. I don't know how I would do the things I wanted to do where people saw me differently, saw me as someone to be pitied. That ended up not being an issue.''
Mr. Fox said he would most certainly seek to raise money among his wealthy friends and associates in the entertainment industry. But he also said he was uncomfortable with the notion of picking up the phone and asking for contributions.
Speaking of his new work, he said: ''It's not about being noble, it's not about being anything. It just seems like this is the right thing to do. You know, it's not denial but I feel okay now. And things are good.''
An Article from The New York Times
Charlie Sheen Delivers A New Spin To 'Spin City'
By BERNARD WEINRAUB
Published: May 7, 2001
Early last year, when Charlie Sheen was chosen to replace Michael J. Fox on the ABC comedy ''Spin City,'' the show's producers, writers and cast knew that it was taking a substantive turn that could lead to disaster.
After all, this sitcom about New York's City Hall was created for Mr. Fox, who played a deputy mayor. He reluctantly decided to leave the show after four years because his Parkinson's disease was growing worse. His image, onscreen and off, was cheerfully wholesome, almost innocent.
By contrast, Mr. Sheen's flourishing acting career in movies like ''Wall Street'' and ''Platoon'' had been derailed by a bad-boy reputation that made him a familiar figure in supermarket tabloids. He partied and drank too much, used drugs, was a close buddy of Heidi Fleiss, the so-called Hollywood madam, and seemed a prime candidate for oblivion.
''I was pretty unreliable,'' said Mr. Sheen, who had been treated several times for drug and alcohol problems. ''I probably wouldn't have hired me had I been ABC.''
To Mr. Sheen's surprise, and that of virtually everyone else connected with it, ''Spin City,'' now in its fifth season, has earned some of its highest ratings ever, drawing larger and younger audiences than the episodes that starred Mr. Fox.
It is conventional wisdom that a series with a new lead will not outperform its record with the original star. Earle Marsh, co-author with Tim Brooks of ''The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows'' (Ballantine Books), said that when Shelley Long left ''Cheers,'' television executives predicted doom. But after Kirstie Alley replaced Ms. Long, the show's ratings increased, he said, in part because the entire ensemble improved.
In the 1970's ''Toma,'' an unsuccessful ABC police drama, was recast, retitled and changed in other ways to become ''Baretta,'' a hit that ran from 1975 to 1978. In 1987 Valerie Harper abruptly quit her NBC series, ''Valerie,'' about a harried woman named Valerie Hogan juggling family and career. Ms. Harper was replaced by Sandy Duncan, whose character was renamed Sandy Hogan. The show, retitled ''The Hogan Family,'' ran on NBC until 1990, when it moved to CBS for still another year.
During Mr. Sheen's first few months on ''Spin City,'' its average number of viewers increased to 12.1 million from the 11.8 million who watched Mr. Fox in the early months of the previous season. Mr. Fox's audience grew after the announcement that he was leaving last May.
In recent months ''Spin City,'' on Wednesday night at 9:30, has had strong competition from the sexually provocative Fox reality show ''Temptation Island'' and NBC's increasingly popular ''West Wing.'' (Martin Sheen, who plays President Josiah Bartlet on ''The West Wing,'' is Charlie Sheen's father.) But the audience for ''Spin City'' is nonetheless higher among television's most prized demographic group: teenagers and young adults. The audience for ''Spin City'' has increased 13 percent among teenagers since Mr. Fox's final season and 7 percent among men 18 to 34.
Why has ''Spin City'' unexpectedly prospered? Audiences may be responding to the series's new sexiness. In the episode introducing Mr. Sheen as a new deputy mayor, he was seen in bed with a female flight attendant. In various episodes his character has drunk too much, gambled and had an eye for women that would have been unthinkable for Mr. Fox, whose image as the boy next door prevailed even when he tried to be lecherous.
Mr. Sheen has no such problem. As Charlie Crawford, he plays a funny and slightly dissolute fellow who is mentioned far more often in gossip columns than in news articles and is now trying to rehabilitate himself. (It is no secret that Mr. Sheen is more or less playing himself.) And his work with Heather Locklear, whom the show's producers consider both a classic blond beauty and a gifted comedian, playing Caitlin Moore, City Hall's director of special projects, adds a new sexual dynamic.
''I'm just glad people are responding,'' Mr. Sheen said when asked why the series has stirred audiences. ''I can't comment on what they're responding to.''
Ms. Locklear said she was also unable to explain the ratings. ''Maybe there's more awareness of the show,'' she said. ''Michael and Charlie are such completely different people. It's definitely more of an ensemble show. Is it sexier? I think so, because of what Charlie brings to it.''
Which actor did Ms. Locklear prefer working with? ''I don't feel comfortable answering that,'' she said. ''It's like comparing boyfriends.''
Mr. Marsh gave several reasons for the upsurge in the ''Spin City'' ratings, including its time slot. In the first half of Mr. Fox's final season the show was on Tuesday nights at 8, facing tough competition from ''Just Shoot Me'' and ''Buffy the Vampire Slayer.''
And then there is Mr. Sheen. ''He was a movie star who came to television, he had a bad-boy image, and I'm sure he had a certain mystique,'' Mr. Marsh said. ''I'm sure young people followed his antics and found him more intriguing than Michael J. Fox, who is happily married and a family man.''
Mr. Sheen was cast almost by accident. Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of the owners of DreamWorks SKG, the show's production company, said that only he and Gary David Goldberg, a creator of the show, knew of Mr. Fox's increasing difficulties with Parkinson's, a degenerative disease that causes tremors and muscle rigidity. ''All sorts of adjustments were made in order to support Michael, but it was clearly getting harder and harder for him to do the show without talking about it,'' he said.
Early last year Mr. Fox, also an executive producer of ''Spin City,'' told Mr. Katzenberg, Mr. Goldberg and Dan McDermott, the head of television for DreamWorks, that he was unable to continue in the cast. But he announced his decision only after ''Spin City'' had filmed enough episodes to make it lucrative in syndication. ''We had gotten 110 or so episodes out of it,'' Mr. Katzenberg said. ''It was the magic number to have a library asset. It was very important that everybody who had invested four years in the show have that asset. The decision to continue after Michael left wasn't financially driven; it wasn't the imperative.''
Soon after Mr. Fox's decision, Mr. Goldberg said, he began asking why the show had to fade, especially with such a strong ensemble cast: Barry Bostwick as Randall Winston, New York's slightly dim mayor, as well as Alan Ruck, Richard Kind, Michael Boatman and Lana Parrilla as various city officials. Then Mr. Goldberg's agent, Jeremy Zimmer, a partner at the United Talent Agency, called to say that he had just seen Charlie Sheen on the ''Late Show With David Letterman'' and found him both funny and self-deprecating.
Mr. Goldberg met with Mr. Sheen, with whom he had worked on a short-lived 1999 police series, ''Sugar Hill,'' and mentioned him to Mr. Katzenberg and Stu Bloomberg, co-chairman of ABC Entertainment. They agreed that he would be an unusual choice to replace Mr. Fox and that the show could mirror some of Mr. Sheen's image.
''Charlie said, 'Look, Gary, I've been the biggest joke in Hollywood for 10 years,' '' Mr. Goldberg recalled. '' 'If I can't laugh at myself, no one else will.' ''
Mr. Sheen said that Mr. Fox was very supportive. ''He said, 'Enjoy it, embrace it,' '' Mr. Sheen said. ''He also said, 'If you need any tips or shortcuts, call.' After a few shows Michael called back, and said, 'Well, I guess I won't be getting any phone calls.' He said that I don't need any tips at all. That was one of the nicest calls I've ever gotten.''
To watch clips of Spin City go to https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=spin+city+tv+show
For more on Spin City go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spin_City
For a Website dedicated to Spin City go to https://web.archive.org/web/20050221111634/http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Hills/3783/
For Tim's TV Showcase go to https://web.archive.org/web/20020124122947/http://www.timstvshowcase.com/spincity.html
For a look at a crossover between Spin City and Family Ties go to http://poobala.com/familyandspin.html
For the Michael J. Fox Foundation go to http://www.michaeljfox.org/
For the Michael J. Fox database go to http://www.michaeljfoxdatabase.com/
For the Michael J. Fox Encyclopedia go to http://www.bttf.com/fox.htm
For a Website dedicated to Carla Gugino go to http://carlaguginoonline.com/
To follow Connie Britton on Twitter go to https://twitter.com/conniebritton?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor
For some Spin City-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/shows/spin-city
For a Review of Spin City go to https://web.archive.org/web/20080222054445/http://www.televisionheaven.co.uk/spincity.htm
To watch the opening credits go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIJ2qK3AQYY and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPQ0g82ZPOs and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ia9XwAV-ayE
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Keywords: The Cast of Spin City (Links Updated 8/3/18)