He takes his seat on a couch. I take my seat on a chair across a coffee table from him. Gus plops down next to us. This is when I get the first real glimpse into the physical effects Parkinson’s has on him. I ask a question about his character on The Michael J. Fox Show and, as he explains in great detail who Mike Henry is and how he came to be, I realize that the Parkinson’s — once controlled and presumably stymied as seen in his December 1998 interview with Barbara Walters on 20/20 — is now full-on, even with a heavy cocktail of medication. In that interview, Walters asked him if he thought he’d still have Parkinson’s when he was 50. Fox’s reply: “I know I won’t have this. I will not have it.”
Have it, however, he does. And although Fox hasn’t been a fixture in the limelight since he left Spin City in 2000 (a decade after his diagnosis), it’s hard for me and presumably for many people who see a happy, handsome man uncontrollably gesticulating to accept that this is the rock-solid werewolf-turned-heartthrob we grew up watching. It becomes much easier to accept the more you see it and the more he talks about his portrayal of Mike Henry, a beloved New York news anchor who retires when diagnosed with Parkinson’s only to return later, disease be damned. The Mike Henry character is a self-styled translation of what Fox’s “normal” has been both professionally and at home for 22 years.
“When I first talked to the producers and the writers about the concept for the show, they had read my books and we talked a lot about that take on life,” Fox says. “Control is an illusion. Any time you think you have a situation under control, you’ve made an error somewhere. That’s tough for someone who has a job where he’s a newsman and he has a lot of creative and editorial control, and then he spends time with his family and it’s just chaos. It’s a metaphor for the condition. You can see the guy has moments when he’s struggling and can’t do certain things, and yet he’s still a big player with everything that goes on in his family.”
Of course, Michael didn’t come to such a profound conclusion overnight. No, the man who went 30 years into the future (and 100 years into the past) had a very real present to deal with back in 1991, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the extraordinarily young age of 30.