Michael J. Fox recently opened up about the effects of living with Parkinson’s disease.
The 59-year-old actor says the neurodegenerative disorder has impacted his short-term memory and ability to deliver lines.
Despite his condition, Fox has worked in films and television over the last 30 years.
Since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991, Michael J. Fox has persisted through many health challenges. Now, at nearly 60, he continues to experience new symptoms of the degenerative condition, including memory loss—more specifically, a new struggle to remember acting lines.
According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder that impacts the firing of specific, dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. Symptoms develop slowly over time and vary from person to person, but the most common are body tremors, limb rigidity, and loss of balance.
“My short-term memory is shot,” the Back to the Future star told People. “I always had a real proficiency for lines and memorization. And I had some extreme situations where the last couple of jobs I did were actually really word-heavy parts. I struggled during both of them.”
Although it’s often referred to as a “movement disorder” due to its most common symptoms, Parkinson’s is, at its core, a brain disorder that can cause cognitive impairment. According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, memory or thinking problems caused by the disease can range from difficulties in concentrating or multitasking to more severe impairments that interfere with daily life. Other non-motor related symptoms include apathy or lack of motivation, depression, and anxiety.
Despite his condition, Fox has continued to work in films and television over the last 30 years. According to IMDb, he returned to The Good Fight this year, a spinoff of The Good Wife in which he held the recurring role of Louis Canning from 2010 to 2016. He’s also currently working on a short film called The Beast, Heroes of the Wildfire, and because Parkinson’s also affects his speech, he regularly practices shouting tongue twisters to keep his projection and diction crisp.
Still, as the skills that once took the forefront begin to dwindle, the actor turns to writing. His latest book, No Time Like the Future releases on Nov. 17. “My guitar playing is no good. My sketching is no good anymore, my dancing never was good, and acting is getting tougher to do,” he admitted. “So it’s down to writing. Luckily, I really enjoy it.”
The main driver for Fox’s persistence in spite of his worsening condition is optimism rooted in gratitude. Even after he had surgery to remove a noncancerous spinal tumor in 2018 that could’ve paralyzed him, and subsequently falling and breaking his arm, he refused to allow negativity to consume him.
“[That] was definitely my darkest moment,” he explained. “But optimism is sustainable when you keep coming back to gratitude, and what follows from that is acceptance. Accepting that this thing has happened, and you accept it for what it is. It doesn’t mean that you can’t endeavor to change. It doesn’t mean you have to accept it as a punishment or a penance, but just put it in its proper place. Then see how much the rest of your life you have to thrive in, and then you can move on.”
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