Michael J. Fox Fires Back at Critics

ByABC News
October 28, 2006, 6:15 PM

Oct. 29, 2006 — -- Actor Michael J. Fox jokes that he may be short in stature, but he's still enough of a "big boy" to withstand criticism over his backing of embryonic stem cell research -- including comments by radio personality Rush Limbaugh initially questioning whether Fox may have exaggerated Parkinson's disease tremors in a televised political ad.

The ad in question had Fox backing Democrat Claire McCaskill in her effort to unseat Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., and critics have denounced Fox as a mouthpiece for Democrats. He denied that charge to ABC News in a Sunday exclusive interview on "This Week."

Fox said that rather than partisan politics, he is most concerned with widening federally funded embryonic stem cell research -- and supporting candidates who would do so.

"I'm not a shill for the Democratic Party," Fox told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos. "I approached them. I sat down to find out what candidates are pro-stem cell in races where they're opposed by anti-stem cell candidates. And I had no predisposition toward Democrats or Republicans. It'd be fine with me either way.

"In fact," he added, "a Republican candidate who's pro-stem cell would be someone I'd really like to talk to. And in fact in the past I've supported, I've done commercials for [Sen.] Arlen Specter, [R-Pa.] who is a very aggressive pro-stem cell champion."

Following is the text of Fox's interview with Stephanopoulos.

Watch "This Week" to see the interview for yourself. Check your local listing for airtimes.

George Stephanopoulos: Michael, good to see you again.

Michael J. Fox: Thank you. Good to see you.

Stephanopoulos: You know, you made about as much news as President Bush this week. Did you expect to get hit this hard?

Fox: No, I mean, I expected there to be a swift response of some kind. But I mean, you know, particularly from the talk show group, when I heard that response, I was like, "What, are you kidding me?" I was, I mean, "You kidding me?" I was--

Stephanopoulos: You're talking about Rush Limbaugh?

Fox: Yes. It seemed just so, "No, it can't be."

Stephanopoulos: You couldn't believe it, but your mom was mad.

Fox: My mom was. Yes, she was not happy. Well, because she was with me when I shot the ads. And, she was visiting. And it's uncomfortable for her to see me not feeling well. And she knew, because what I was dealing with at that time, which was dyskinesia, which was a reaction to the medication. She knew how hard I was struggling to stay still. I truly wanted to stay still. It's more comfortable. It's not comfortable to be moving around. The goal is to be as calm as I can. So she was noting that struggle to my friends who were with her while I taped.

So then to hear that reaction made her livid. She was just, and, the way Irish moms can get, you know.

Stephanopoulos: Or Greek moms.

How does it work? You know, you take the medication. How do you know when you're going to be more in control or more out?

Fox: The thing is that, you know -- again, I've been diagnosed for 15 years, which means I probably have had the disease for 18, 19 years. They say by the time you show symptoms that 80 percent of the dopamine-producing cells in your brain are gone.

So, for example, when I first disclosed I had, it was after keeping it secret for seven years. I disclosed it partly because there was going to be no hiding it anymore pretty soon. And for all those years, I'd masked it with medication.

But then what happens is the medication, after all, loses its efficacy and what happens is, in order to get the benefits from it, which is increased mobility, less tremor, you start to get what's called dyskinesia, which is this movement. And it's preferable in a way to the other--

Stephanopoulos: Right.

Fox: Because you have, without it at this point, this way: If I didn't medicate it at all, I'd have a masked face, I'd have very limited movement, I'd have a very difficult time speaking, a la Mohammed Ali or similar. So if I want to be articulate, if I want to speak, this comes with the package. So--

Stephanopoulos: That's the tradeoff.

Fox: That's the tradeoff.

So I either sound good or look good.


I don't get the whole package.

You know, it's a constant balancing act, and there are things to go with it. Sitting still in a chair and being involved in an interrogatory, no matter how friendly or unfriendly or whatever, just the stress that it takes to be focused and to get the words together, you know, increases the motion.

It's just something to get used to. The thing that's strange about it is when you're live with it every day, and then to have someone outside give you a review on it.

Stephanopoulos: Become an expert.

Fox: Like I said, you have-- You don't even get hurt. You're just kind of like, "Sorry? You got some notes for me?"


on how is this supposed to work?"


Stephanopoulos: Rush apologized -- I guess he apologized for saying you were acting. He didn't call you, did he?

Fox: He would've had more qualifications at an AA meeting.


No, you know, that's beside the point. It really isn't germane to the issue.

It's funny because, what I'm talking about is about hope. It's about promise. It's about moving forward. It's a forward-looking attitude about what this country is capable of and what we can accomplish for our citizens.

And so if we get sidetracked into a dialogue about whether sick people have a right to display their symptoms in public, you know, that reaction. I think it was more disappointing, from the point of view of-- The campaigns, like the [Republican Senate candidate Michael] Steele campaign, their spokesman said, "It was in poor taste," which really-- I mean, I'm out here and I expect that. Being in the lead, I'll take some hits. And that's fine. I'm a big boy. Well, not height-wise.


I'm experienced enough and mature enough to take my licks.

But I know the community was really hurt by it. And it really brings up the specter of, "Go away. Shut the windows. Shut the doors. Close the curtains, and suffer, and don't let us know," because it's a fearful response.

And what the irony is, is that those people that are being pitied or being asked to suffer in silence don't want to suffer, don't see themselves as pitiable, don't see themselves as victims -- see themselves as citizens, participants in the process, and people with aspirations and hopes and dreams for the future. They are way more positive as a whole than what I've seen from the community that opposes them.

Stephanopoulos: You mentioned the Steele campaign. Both the Steele campaign and the Talent campaign have said you're not being fair to them, because they want to expand stem cell research, too, they say, but it's adult stem cell research.

Fox: Right, and I agree with them on adult stem cell research. I mean, let's talk about what we agree on. I agree that stem cell research is fantastic; we should pursue it. I agree that we should have no human cloning. We're against that. We're against egg farming, that notion. We agree on all of that.