FULL NAME : Michael Andrew Fox
STAGE NAME: Michael J. Fox
BIRTHDAY: Friday June 9, 1961
HAIR COLOR: Brown
EYE COLOR: Blue
FATHER: William Fox (Deceased: January 6, 1990)
MOTHER: Phyllis Fox
BROTHER: Steven Fox
–Karen (Deceased November 6, 2007)
WIFE: Tracy Pollan
WEDDING DATE: Saturday July 16, 1988
— Samuel Michael Fox (May 30, 1989)
— Aquinna Kathleen Fox (Twin – February 15, 1995)
— Schuyler Francis Fox (Twin – February 15, 1995)
— Esme Annabelle Fox (November 3, 2001)
William Fox was in the Canadian Army and the Fox family moved several times during Michael’s childhood. The Foxes resided in places such as Chilliwack, British Columbia and North Bay, Ontario. Fortunately, Michael was good at making friends quickly.
“There are a lot of army brats who are actors. You’re in different places all the time, different schools. You either find a way to get attention or become a wallflower.”-Michael J. Fox to Marsha Daly
When Michael was five, the family settled in Burnaby, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver. This is where Michael grew up.
Michael was interested in many things during his youth such as music, drawing and especially hockey. Unfortunately, while his friends grew into the sport, Michael never grew large enough to become a serious contender for professional hockey.
While in school, he participated in drama class but at the time didn’t consider going into acting professionally. However, Ross Jones, his drama teacher, suggested that he try out for a local television show entitled, “Leo and Me.” Michael was 15 and the part was for a 10 year old, but his short stature and boyish looks helped him win the role of Jamie Romano, the nephew of an Italian con-artist.
“Leo and Me” lasted only 13 weeks, but Michael had caught the acting bug. Because Canadian laws involving working students were more lenient than American laws, it was easier for Michael to pursue his acting dreams than it would have been had he been a United States citizen. He became involved with local theater groups and in 1978 he won a role in an American TV movie that was shooting in Vancouver. The film was Letters From Frank, in which Michael played the grandson of the legendary Art Carney and Maureen Stapleton.
Carney and Stapleton were impressed with Michael and encouraged him to continue to pursue his acting career. His performance in Letters From Frank had also been noticed by several Hollywood studio executives and doors began to open.
HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD
Although Michael was close to finishing high school, he decided to light out for Hollywood, California, USA to pursue his career. It was decided that Michael would leave after his 18th birthday, but before graduating High School. (Michael would not receive his General Equivalency Diploma until 1995.) His father drove him to Los Angeles and gave him three thousand dollars to get started.
Things went pretty well for Michael in the beginning. He won small roles in films such as Disney’s second PG-rated film Midnight Madness and even a role on a weekly critically-acclaimed drama “Palmerstown USA.”
“Palmerstown” was expected to be a hit show. The creators, Norman Lear and Alex Haley, had created two legendary programs: Lear’s “All in the Family” and Haley’s “Roots.” Nevertheless, despite what the show had going for it, audiences never warmed up to the program and it was canceled after two seasons.
After the cancellation of “Palmerstown,” Michael continued to win guest roles on hit shows such as “Lou Grant,” “Trapper John M.D.” and “Family.” Michael had never been out of work since arriving in Hollywood and he seemed to be doing very well.
However, he unexpectedly hit hard times. He had spent his money as fast as he had earned it and found himself thirty thousand dollars in debt. He moved out of his nice apartment into a garage apartment, sold his car and began living on macaroni and cheese and selling his sectional sofa one piece at a time.
He was depressed, out of work and overweight and seriously considered going back to Vancouver, giving up his acting career. Before he let that happen, he decided to help himself turn around which included losing the weight he had gained.
In the early 1980’s his agent called him and informed him of an audition for a yuppie, ultraconservative (for the time) teenager on a new family situation comedy for NBC. Michael auditioned for the part, and even after the creator’s initial trepidation about his suitability for the role, won the role of Alex P. Keaton on “Family Ties,” the role for which he is still most famous.
“I think I won out by being more obnoxious than the other kids who auditioned. Every time I had gone to a Hollywood audition, I’d seen all of these super friendly and totally insincere kids dropping names like crazy. I went to the other extreme and put down everyone, which is what the character of Alex was all about. Luckily, it worked.”-Michael J. Fox, on winning the role of Alex P. Keaton.
Like most of NBC’s shows at the time, particularly the sitcoms such as “Cheers”, “Family Ties” had low ratings in its first season. Wisely, NBC gave it, and several other programs, another chance and in its following seasons it earned much higher ratings. This was in part to NBC’s patience (something rarely seen in ANY network studio at present), but mostly because the character of Alex P. Keaton blew people away. Gary David Goldberg, creator of “Family Ties,” stated that after the second episode of the series, it was clear that the focus had to shift from the liberal parents to the conservative children, in particular Alex, whom Michael was turning into an eventual American icon of conservative Republicanism.
The public loved Michael J. Fox as Alex, but Michael made certain that his costars were not ignored. He went out of his way to praise their work in interviews.
Learning from his past mistakes, Michael didn’t go back to his ‘earn it and spend it’ ways. He began saving money just in case his good luck turned out to be temporary. He did not want to be in the situation he had been in before earning the role of Alex P. Keaton.
The next two years went well for Michael. “Family Ties” had become a successful program, especially when it began to follow the hit show “The Cosby Show.” He was also asked to lead two made-for-TV films entitled High School USA and Poison Ivy. Neither were gems of television cinema, but they were fun, lighthearted and highly rated. These films also introduced Michael to Nancy McKeon, the breakout star of “The Facts of Life.” They never liked to talk to the press about their relationship, but it was considered a fact by the public that the two young stars were a ‘couple.’
A few years into “Family Ties,” Gary David Goldberg was approached and asked to let Michael star in a Steven Spielberg-produced film about a time-traveling teenager. At first, Goldberg did not inform Michael about the offer, not wanting to lose him to film-stardom. Months later, Goldberg was again asked about Michael because Eric Stoltz, who had been chosen for the part after Goldberg stated that Michael wasn’t available, was reportedly not giving the energetic performance that Robert Zemeckis, the director, was looking for. Goldberg finally told Michael about the offer and he quickly agreed to play the role of Marty McFly in the film Back to the Future.
Michael’s schedule was hectic, to say the least. He would rehearse for “Family Ties” from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. After this was done, he would be rushed to the Back to the Future set where he would rehearse and shoot until 2:30 A.M. This schedule lasted for two full months.
“I had to learn to enjoy it. Besides, if I couldn’t handle the pace at my age, I figured I might as well get out of the business. I averaged about four hours of sleep a night. Energy was in very short supply at the time…It was just one of those things. Working such long hours really taxes your sanity. But what was I going to do? The movie had to get done.”-Michael on shooting Back to the Future and rehearsing “Family Ties” simultaneously.
The schedule was grueling, but Speilberg and Zemeckis believed they had the makings of a huge hit.
And the audiences agreed. On July 3, 1985, Back to the Future was released, making Michael an international star. The film was number one at the box office for weeks and eventually earned the studio $300 million worldwide, an astounding figure for a mid-1980’s film.
“The adventure, the excitement, and the total creativity are all so original and so well assembled there is not one point in the movie where you would remotely lose interest or become skeptical. Movies that are this much fun with such innocence are really a unique phenomenon.”-Chad Polenz, critic, on Back to the Future
Teen Wolf, though filmed before Back to the Future, was released a month afterward. A low-budget teen ‘B’ movie, it was blessed with the success of Back to the Future and it’s young star, causing it to become the second highest grossing film of the year.
Despite Michael’s now worldwide appeal, he made it quite clear that he would not ‘abandon’ “Family Ties.” He never forgot how he had achieved his success and he stated publicly that he would stick with “Family Ties” until the very end, and he lived up to his word.
“I can’t turn my back on “Family Ties” now. In fact, I could stay with it forever. I like the show, I like the people, I like the security, and I love the character.”-Michael J. Fox
CONTINUED SUCCESS, PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL
During the shooting of Bright Lights, Big City, Michael was reunited with one-time on-screen girlfriend Tracy Pollan. Pollan had played Ellen Reed on “Family Ties,” a dance major at Leland college with whom Alex became involved. Pollan had performed the role for only one year. At the time she had been dating Kevin Bacon and Michael was still with Nancy McKeon. However, when they met again on the set of Bright Lights, Big City, both were unattached and began to see each other. After 14 months, Michael proposed on December 26, 1987.
The couple worked hard to keep the wedding date and place a secret. In the end, both were found out but the only successful pictures taken by the paparazzi were of Michael stepping out of a car and an aerial view of the tent in which the ceremony was held.
After seven years, Gary David Goldberg and crew decided to bring “Family Ties” to an end. In the book Michael J. Fox: Overcoming Adversity by Richard Kozar, the anecdote is told that Michael J. Fox and Michael Gross (Steven Keaton) proposed that the writers end the show with the Keatons going down in a plane crash to ensure that there would be no Keaton Family Reunion television films in the future.
This didn’t happen, of course. Alex simply graduated from college and moved to New York to pursue his dream of riches and…riches. (In 1996, in the last episode that Michael did for “Spin City” it was revealed that Alex became a politician.)
After “Family Ties” ended, Michael’s film career continued to flourish with films such as Back to the Future Parts II & III and Casualties of War. Casualties of War was not a box office hit, but Michael did receive good reviews for his performance as a Private serving in the hellish environs of the U.S. Vietnam war.
Michael and Tracy also had their first child, Samuel Michael Fox. Michael was making sure that he had plenty of time to spend with his family, working guaranteed vacations into his film contracts.
Another film that Michael appeared in was Doc Hollywood, a romantic comedy about a talented medical doctor who decides to become a plastic surgeon, relocating from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles, California. On his way there, he gets lost and ends up in Grady, South Carolina, Squash Capitol of the South.
The film was a modest hit, but it was during the filming of Doc Hollywood that Michael noticed an uncontrollable tremor in his left pinkie. It wasn’t until six months later in New York that he was accurately diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, a degenerative disease that normally strikes the elderly.
Michael decided to keep his illness a secret and even underwent experimental brain surgery in 1998 without alerting the press of his disease.
Between 1991 and 1993, Michael made several films, such as Where the Rivers Flow North, Life With Mikey, Greedy, and For Love or Money. None of these films were received well by audiences and in 1994 he took a break from the entertainment world and focused on spending time with his family.
In the late 1990’s Michael hired new agents, and landed a smaller role in the film The American President receiving good reviews for his role as the President’s chief speech writer.
Negotiations began for a new television series with Gary David Goldberg, the creator and producer of “Family Ties”. This time, however, Michael would also be a producer, having say in the scripts and other aspects of the show.
RETURN TO TELEVISION
Michael had decided to return to television during his shoot for The Frighteners which was filmed in New Zealand by Peter Jackson. His twin daughters had just been born and he was halfway across the world and lonely. Friends and family had sent him videotapes of American television shows to watch, such as “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” “Ellen” and more. He saw what good things were going on in television and wanted to return. Also, television meant a more ‘regular’ schedule and it would allow much more time to spend with his family.
“Spin City” aired to critical acclaim and high ratings. The show was a hit. Michael played Michael Flaherty, Deputy Mayor of New York City. His character, though similar to Alex P. Keaton, was much more open-minded and liberal. Michael was very happy with the role and enjoyed the stability of a weekly sitcom.
“Once, I was so concerned about being tied down to one thing. I wanted to try everything. Now I know nothing comes close to being as fun and fulfilling as this. It’s 1996 and I’m still here, still making a good living and having a good time. When I was 20, I would have taken a bullet in the head to never have to be 35. Now I’m more comfortable and at peace with who I am. The greatest part of that is that I’m not the center of my life anymore-my family is.”-Michael, from an interview with US Magazine.
After going through experimental brain surgery, in which there was a small chance that he could die, Michael realized that he couldn’t keep his illness a secret any longer. During the second season of “Spin City” Michael made the announcement that he had Parkinson’s Disease. He was very positive about his illness and emphasized that although the disease had slowed him down, it didn’t mean that he was going away.
GOING PUBLIC WITH PARKINSON’S
During the third season of “Spin City”, Michael decided to retire from the show and focus his attentions on helping to find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease and to spend more time with his family. He announced that he planned to continue to act and would make guest appearances on “Spin City.” However, most of his efforts would be spent dealing with Parkinson’s and finding a cure, which researchers claimed could be found within the next decade.
Michael realized that he could have a positive impact and started a foundation for finding a cure for Parkinson’s Disease called The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease Research. He also testified before the Senate Appropriations committee.
On April 2, 2002 Michael J. Fox’s autobiography Lucky Man: A Memoir hit the shelves, the first of what would turn out to be several memoirs. It was announced that all of Michael’s profits from the book would go to the Foundation.
Michael has continued to be an advocate for Parkinson’s Disease research, raising millions with his foundation. In addition, he continues to make guest appearances on television programs such as “Rescue Me,” “The Good Wife“ and “Phineas and Ferb.” Michael has remained true to his word and has not ‘gone away’ in any sense of the word.
“The biggest thing is that I can be in this situation and still love life as much as I do. Life is great. Sometimes, though, you just have to put up with a little more crap.”-Michael J. Fox
–Original text by Brandi M. Mills, copyright © 2004-Present; Last updated April 4, 2011
If you would like to use any part of this biography for any purpose, please be sure to cite this website and drop me a line just to let me know.