It's been 13 years since Michael J. Fox headlined a show. He left "Spin City" in 2000 when his struggle with Parkinson's disease made filming difficult.
Since then, he's made acclaimed guest appearances on shows including "The Good Wife," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and "Rescue Me," but now Fox is returning to star in his own TV sitcom, "The Michael J. Fox Show." He's still healthy and at the top of his acting game. And now, Fox can make fun of the disease that once threatened to shorten his career.
[Related: Michael J. Fox Talks Going Back To Work]
Fox's character on the new NBC comedy also has Parkinson's, and it's the subject of some of the show's jokes.
"On rare occasions, people say, 'How can you laugh about this?' Well, what's the other option? Crying about it, which doesn't make sense to me," Fox told Bruce Fetts in the new issue of Emmy magazine. "If you laugh at something, you take the sting out of it — you take the power out of it."
Fox insists he isn't really making fun of the disease or himself. "I'm just saying, these are the realities of my world, and this is how I choose to look at it: through humor," he said.
Rather than being the butt of the joke, Fox says, he
is the perpetrator.
Fox's health has become part of the character he's played over the years — first on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," where a version of Fox relied on Parkinson's as an excuse to be rude. Later, on "The Good Wife," his wily lawyer, Louis Canning, had no problem using the disease to manipulate judges and juries.
But while Parkinson's does figure into the new sitcom, it won't be a pervasive issue. "It plays a much smaller part than you'd think in the show — and in his real life," says his TV wife, Betsy Brandt ("Breaking Bad").
Fox takes care to make sure his health doesn't affect the shooting schedule, though he did have to forego a live audience. Still, that he's taking on a lead role (as well as producing duties) amazes former "Spin City" co-star Connie Britton.
"The fact that he's doing a sitcom right now, with his physical condition, is just mind-boggling," the "Nashville" star says. "He is such an inspiration for humanity and the power of the human spirit."
And starring in his own show isn't all — Fox made sure his NBC contract included a clause allowing him to continue appearing on "The Good Wife."
"The second they say we can have him, I guarantee you we'll all be jumping for joy," said star Julianna Margulies.
In 2001, doctors told Fox he could keep working for 10 years. That mark is now well back in the rearview mirror — and the star feels good about going even further.
As he hopes, "I'd like to go six years. That would be great."
Watch the promo for "The Michael J. Fox Show":
"The Michael J. Fox Show" premieres Thursday, Sept. 26 at 9 p.m. on NBC.