×

Michael J. Fox on Facing Adversity With Optimism and Dark Humor

Michael J. Fox doesn’t let Parkinson’s disease get him down. He takes life step-by-step when he fears he will fall, he laughs through hardship, and he helps others who are struggling to do the same.

“I don’t know much about acting, but I know what people have told me and what acting teachers have told me,” he said. “I learned that if you’re laughing, just keep laughing, if you’re crying, cry till you cant anymore. Stuff happens and you just get on.”

When old friends Denis Leary and Fox sat down for a Tribeca Film Festival panel talk on Tuesday, they shared memories and quipped about how they’re different: the former is a pessimistic Irishman, the latter an optimist with a dark sense of humor. From Fox joking about how disabled people can also be “assholes” to retelling a story about how his daughters had to describe the term “fomo” to him, it seems to be true. In Leary’s case, he said that his Manhattan road-rage is his favorite part of the day.

“I consider myself an Irish optimist, which means I look forward to the worst happening, but you, you’re sort of unrelenting. Like you know, with this disease or this diagnosis, you go like ‘okay, what’s the next f—ing barrier that comes up, f— that, let’s knock it down,’ which is really admirable,” Leary said.

A tangible indication of Fox’s humorous optimism can be shown through his comedy show fundraiser, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson’s,” which are followed by another one of Fox’s passions: music. The events have seen acts and guests such as Chris Rock, Muhammad Ali, Whoopi Goldberg, and magician David Blaine. Leary recalled one story where Ali hid from Fox in a janitor’s closet because his attendance was supposed to be a surprise. Every year, Fox also achieves his rockstar dreams by appearing onstage playing his guitar.

“Every year when Mike does the event, it ends with rock and roll,” Leary said. “Elvis Costello, The Who, every year there’s this big number and Mike is playing ‘Johnny B Goode,’ so in your own way, your rockstar dreams are achieved.”

In terms of how The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research is going, he said that they are on their way to “zoning in” on figuring out how to catch symptoms early. They have enough indicators that will help folks treat the symptoms more proactively before the cells start to die, and he said that they will make feasible steps toward prevention within a few years.

“After spinal surgery, it was hard to learn how to walk. I was really cocky about it and walking with no aids or cane, and then I shattered my humerus, which is no f—ing joke, think about it,” he said about his struggles. “I was the guy who made lemonade out of lemons, but I couldn’t make lemonade. Then I realized I have to take everything one step at a time so I don’t fall down. You have more time that way. Each step is a new adventure.”

Fox ended saying that he’s working on his next book, which he jokingly said would be called “Why We Don’t Suck,” and gave advice to young actors: “brush your teeth.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Wanda Sykes, Mike Epps to Star

    Wanda Sykes, Mike Epps to Star in Multi-Camera Comedy Series for Netflix

    Wanda Sykes and Mike Epps are headed to Netflix. The streamer has ordered a multi-camera comedy series starring the two comedians titled “The Upshaws.” The series centers on a working-class Africian American family in Indiana struggling to make it work and make it right without the blueprints to do it. Sykes will executive produce and [...]

  • Vader Streams Shuts Down

    Vader Streams Shut Down by Hollywood Studios

    A coalition of Hollywood studios and streaming companies announced on Tuesday that they have shut down Vader Streams, which was once a popular source of pirated TV content. The service went offline in early May under mysterious circumstances, leading to speculation that the operator had either absconded or been forced out of business. The Alliance [...]

  • Søren-Sveistrup

    Netflix Teams With 'The Killing' Creator for Crime Thriller 'The Chestnut Man'

    HAUGESUND, Norway  — Further expanding its Scandinavian footprint, Netflix has announced its second Danish original series, “The Chestnut Man,” a police thriller based on “The Killing” creator Søren Sveistrup’s popular novel. The streaming giant will team with Sveistrup’s SAM Productions, minority owned by Studiocanal, part of Vivendi Canal Plus Group, to deliver this noir-influenced literary [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    ICM Blasts Writers Guild Over Withdrawal of State Lawsuit

    ICM Partners has slammed the leaders of the Writers Guild of America over its decision to withdraw from its state court lawsuit in favor of refiling the action in federal court. The agency, which was sued in April by the guild and eight WGA members over charging allegedly illegal packaging fees, issued a statement Tuesday [...]

  • succession

    'Succession' Renewed for Season 3 at HBO

    “Succession” has scored an early Season 3 renewal at HBO. The news comes as the critically-acclaimed drama series is just two episodes into its second season. Season 1 of the series was recently nominated for five Emmy Awards, including for best drama series. “We are elated that ‘Succession’ and its exploration of wealth, power and [...]

  • Kaley CuocoHilarity for Charity Sixth Annual

    Kaley Cuoco HBO Max Series 'The Flight Attendant' Sets Creative Team

    The creative team set to bring Kaley Cuoco’s dark comedy series “The Flight Attendant” to HBO Max has taken shape. The series, which tells the terrifying story of a flight attendant (Cuoco) who wakes up in the wrong hotel, in the wrong bed, with a dead man and no idea what happened, has tapped Susanna [...]

  • Mayim Bialik

    Mayim Bialik Signs Warner Bros. TV Production, Talent Holding Deal

    “The Big Bang Theory” star Mayim Bialik is expanding her relationship with the production studio behind the long-running CBS comedy. Bialik and her newly launched Sad Clown Productions banner have signed an exclusive multi-year production deal with the studio, coupled with a talent holding provision for her acting services. Bialik is bringing on former Chuck [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content