Parkinson's Disease as a Punch Line: Michael J. Fox on 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'

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Making Fun vs. Making Light

There's a stark difference between using humor to lighten stigma and using it to make fun of those with PD, however. For instance, in 2006, radio host Rush Limbaugh raised hackles in the Parkinson's community when he accused Fox of "exaggerating" his symptoms during a political ad on stem cell research on his radio show.

"This is purely an act," Limbaugh says, flailing his arms around in mimic of Fox's dyskinesia."Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting." In fact, jerky movements are a sign of taking medication. When patients don't take their medication, they tend to have difficulty moving, not difficulty staying still.

But experts see Fox's role in "Curb Your Enthusiasm" as an opportunity for advocacy and as a way to respond to this kind of misinformed mocking.

"Who better to convey what the personal experience of this disease is like? It seems particularly appropriate as a follow-up to the Rush Limbaugh incident where Fox's symptoms, which are very much real, were portrayed as a fabrication," says Dr. David Standaert, director of the Center for Neurodegeneration and Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "Over 1.5 million in America have PD, and their symptoms are real, too."

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