Michael J. Fox is back where he belongs: on your TV.
WELCOME TO THE FUTURE. Please take advantage of all the cutting-edge technology you desire. Observe our flat-screen televisions that stream live programming and that have works of art as screen savers. Use our handheld portable telephones that display the personal information of whoever calls. Type a message and fax it virtually to someone else’s handheld portable telephone. While you’re driving, tell your car to call your mother and speak directly into the air. Yes, our cars are smart, our phones are smart, and our scientists are smart, thereby smartening up our lives with each new app and icon and gigawatt.
In a few short weeks, it will be the year 2014. Although we’re not flying to work in our cars just yet, our world is eerily similar to a Hollywood projection that was conceived 25 years ago. In fact, I’ll submit that a fairly good cross section of modern technology — flat-screen TVs with hundreds of channels, text messaging and email (evolutions of the fax machine), voice-recognition devices and handheld minicomputers — descends from the movie Back to the Future Part II.
It might take a little imagination to make that connection, or maybe just a couple of clicks on that newfangled television of yours to download the movie directly to your living room to bone up on your history — future history. Still, it’s hard to refute that the Back to the Future trilogy had a profound impact on pop culture, contemporary society and perhaps — if distilled enough times across enough continents and enough banking counters (the trilogy netted just shy of $1 billion) — humanity. Quite a heavy statement indeed, and quite a lot of responsibility to bestow on the franchise’s leading man. Inasmuch as I can make the argument of how Back to the Future Part II shaped today’s technology, I’m similarly confident making this statement: Michael J. Fox is one of the most consequential actors and beloved people in the history of Hollywood.
So it is with sheer bemusement that I look around his Upper East Side office in New York City and realize rather quickly that it is devoid of any hint of modern technology — of the technology that he helped forge. The walls are doctor’s-office white with a few accolades adorning one of them. There are a couple of red upholstered chairs with metal legs. There’s a leather love seat and an Ikea-esque coffee table with some photography books on it. There’s a row of metallic filing cabinets along another wall. In fact, the only hint of futurism — or of sophisticated interior décor — is a large, framed Japanese poster depicting Apocalypse Now. It was a birthday gift this past summer from his wife, Tracy Pollan, who was his girlfriend in his younger days, literally and cinematically. It’s absolutely beautiful, and Michael is quite proud of it. Happy belated 52nd birthday.
Fifty-two years old. How did that happen? More interesting still: How is it that the man born Michael Andrew Fox in Alberta, Canada, 52 years ago maintains the same boyish good looks and casual demeanor as the man who played Marty McFly in 1985, 1989 and 1990? Heck, how is it he still looks and sounds like Alex P. Keaton from the 1980s hit show Family Ties? The future has done nothing to alter the presentation of the man who has brought comedy into our lives for more than 30 years.
The future, however, brought something else — something the writers never scripted and something the versatile actor never expected. Indeed, he is back in the future with his TV show The Michael J. Fox Show, only today’s Michael J. Fox continues to battle Parkinson’s disease 22 years after being diagnosed with it. This Michael J. Fox of the future no longer hides his condition like the Michael J. Fox of the past. No, this Michael J. Fox and his namesake foundation are committed to finding a cure for the degenerative disorder of the nervous system. And this Michael J. Fox is battling his Parkinson’s in a very public-yet-intimate forum: your living room.