Michael J. Fox hadn’t planned to write a fourth book. He’d published his memoir in 2002, with two follow-ups released in the years after, but, “I was going through some things,” Fox tells ET. He was growing increasingly unsatisfied with acting — struggling with a lifelong profession that he couldn’t do in the way he wanted anymore — and so, he put pen to paper once again.
Saying that Fox, 59, was going through it is surely an understatement. “I’ve had Parkinson’s for 30 years” — he was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder in 1991 — “so I was kind of used to that and knew how to get around that and do what I needed to do,” he explains. “Then I had a tumor on my spine, and I had to have that operated on. That was pretty severe.”
The spinal surgery was in 2018, with Fox revealing that had he not had the tumor removed, he faced paralysis. Even after the surgery was deemed a success, “I had to learn to walk again,” he says. “I had to learn to literally put one foot in front of the other.” And so that’s just what he did. “I got walking down,” he recalls, “and as I was strutting down the hallway in my apartment, I fell in the kitchen and shattered my arm.”
“Granted on the misery index, compared to what a lot of people go through, that’s not much — to have Parkinson’s, the spine and the arm — but the arm was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak,” Fox says. “The arm was just one insult too many. And I found myself really questioning this lifelong dedication to optimism and a belief that everything turns out great in the end. I thought, ‘Who am I to tell people that?’ Their misery might be far greater than mine, but I’m lying on the floor waiting for the ambulance to come and I’m not happy.”
The saga of health scares — and subsequent emotional fallout — is documented in Fox’s new book, No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality. (Out Nov. 17.) The memoir was largely written during the pandemic — while Fox isolated with his family on Long Island — and sees Fox reflect on his early life and all he’s overcome thus far as he looks to an uncertain future.
Insidious as they may be, Parkinson’s and the spinal tumor had slowly snuck up on Fox. But the fall? It happened in a second and the damage was immediately clear, both in the break and the way it challenged Fox’s optimistic outlook on life — an outlook he had always prided himself on. (His second book is titled Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist.) Recovery was more than just the bone healing; it was finding a way back to himself.
“When the stuff started to all coalesce and the arm was added to it and I went into this kind of semi-fugue state, I started to look at all the different areas of my life. I started to look at what I was afraid of, what I was proud of, what I could accept and what I couldn’t accept,” he says. He also began thinking of his late father-in-law. “He’d always say, ‘It gets better.’ ‘How you doing?’ ‘It gets better!’ ‘See you later!’ ‘It gets better.’ I started to think about that and started to think about gratitude. Optimism is possible because of gratitude. Gratitude makes optimism sustainable.”
Fox’s optimism hasn’t just been the key to his own life, but fuels the work done at The Michael J. Fox Foundation, the Parkinson’s research and advocacy organization which turns 20 this year. To date, the foundation has funded more than $1 billion in search of a cure. Until that day comes, the organization’s namesake also subscribes to another driving principle: Acceptance.
“It doesn’t mean you can’t endeavor to change, but you have to accept the reality of something and say, ‘This is a fact. This is an actual thing I have to deal with,'” he offers. “When you do that, it gets form and it gets shape and the space around you is open for you to do other things. But if you don’t do that — if you don’t accept it — it becomes this ooze that seeps into every cranny of your life and you can’t control it and it just haunts you.”
At the end of the day, that’s the Michael J. Fox way of life, try as life may to shake it: Optimism, acceptance and a bit of humor to help it go down.
“Really little things — like the fact that it takes me, like, five minutes to put on a pair of socks — will piss me off. But other than that, life is great,” Fox says. On the cusp of turning 60, “I don’t feel 60. I feel 30. I have a brain of a 90-year-old, but the body of a 30-year-old and a spirit of a 15-year-old.”
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