Michael J. Fox spent seven years hiding his personal battle with Parkinson's disease. But now the actor-turned-activist reveals what his life was like behind the scenes.
In his new book, Lucky Man, Fox describes the day first he realized something was wrong. It was Nov. 13, 1990, and he was working on the movie Doc Hollywood when his little finger started shaking. "When the pinky started to go I didn't know what it was," he said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson's about a year later, when he was just 29 years old.
"My brain was seeking a divorce from my mind in the sense that all of a sudden, and forever more, they became two separate entities to me," he said. "My brain, which is this machine — which is faulty in my case, or at least impaired — and my mind which in fact has gone the other direction and really expanded and grown."
Parkinson's, a progressive disorder of the central nervous system, affects about 1 million to 1.5 million Americans. Only about 10 percent of those diagnosed with the disease are "young-onset" patients, who develop the disease before age 40.
Drinking and Hiding
In his book, Fox describes what he went through in the early years. He carried his prescribed pills, which helped to hide the tremors, in his pockets and he drank to ease the emotional pain.
"Once I was diagnosed, I started drinking a different way," he said. "It was probably less drinking — the quantity was down — but the quality was really changed for the worse and it really became hiding."
Fox stopped drinking after his wife, actress Tracy Pollan, helped him realize why he was doing it.
"She was basically saying, 'Is this going to be your reaction to this?' And I sensed that I needed to have a different reaction to it. That this was not the way to deal with this. And so that was 10 years ago and that was the last beverage I had," he said. "It was kind of this weak, watery light beer, too. A bad way to go out, but …"
Fox has reacted to the disease in a much more direct way since he went public in 1998. For many, he has become the face and the voice of Parkinson's disease. He has testified before Congress, asking the government's help in the search for a cure.
He has also set up the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. Its goal is to ensure the development of a cure for Parkinson's disease within this decade through an aggressively funded research agenda.
Search for Serenity
In his book, Fox reveals that his emotional serenity was hard won. The father of four battled drinking and depression before he came to accept his illness as something that wasn't personal.
At one point, Fox says, he even questioned whether or not Pollan, whom he first met on the set of the hit show Family Ties in 1985, was disappointed because Parkinson's had changed him.
Today he knows the answer to that question.
"There was a lovely thing last night where I was talking to Tracy and I was kind of squirming around and I said — she was watching TV — and I said, 'This has got to be distracting.' And she said, 'I don't even see it,'" he said.
"She makes it very clear to me that this is the life that she wants, and so it's great."