There was a scene in the pilot of The Michael J. Fox Show in which two heavily accented dishwasher repairmen show up to fix the ailing machine, and when Mike Henry answers the door, the two repairmen are starstruck. Before they get to work, Mike tries to read instructions for the men left by his wife on a wet, smeared piece of scrap paper. “ ‘Connect the gravy,’ ” he reads aloud. “Why’s it say gravy? This is not going to be helpful. So you know what I’ll do? I’ll call my wife on her cellphone, and she will straighten this whole thing out.” Then you hear a 911 dispatcher. Shocked, Mike explains to the 911 dispatcher that he meant to dial 917 — there’s no emergency, his Parkinson’s drugs simply hadn’t kicked in, and he misdialed. A hilarious scene ensues when the police show up and draw their guns on the repairmen, thinking that Mike Henry was under duress when he canceled the 911 call. “Whoa, whoa, whoa — I’m fine!” Mike proclaims. “I said I was fine on the phone!”
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“It doesn’t matter,” says one of the gun-toting officers. “We have to respond. Better safe than sorry.” After the situation is straightened out, the officer asks Mike for an autograph. “My uncle’s got Alzheimer’s.”
“I actually have Parkinson’s,” Mike replies. The cop shrugs. “Either way.”
That scene was an extrapolation of a real-life event. Fox was on Martha’s Vineyard, where he used to have a home, when, unannounced, two guys showed up to repair the dishwasher. He didn’t know if it was legit, so he went to call his wife and he really did accidentally call 911. The police came. Even though that was an unfortunate display of the effects of Parkinson’s, and notwithstanding how embarrassing it was to summon the 911 dispatcher when he was just trying to call his wife’s cell, Michael J. Fox managed to make it comedic. For us, his fans. Because he loves us. Because he always has; because he always will.
Back at our interview, I explain to Fox how I had a grandmother with Parkinson’s. I tell him how tough Grandma Sally was, how she survived Auschwitz, the death march, the firebombing of Dresden. She contracted Parkinson’s late in life and succumbed to a combination of that and another neurological disease. “Ugh,” he sighs. “Yeah. Ugh.” He lowers his eyes and clasps his hands. I can tell he’s heard this all-too-familiar story of a loved one losing a battle to Parkinson’s before.
Fast-forward six hours. I fly home and, as I’m walking to my door, there’s a package from NBC. It’s the pilot of The Michael J. Fox Show. It didn’t arrive before I flew out to New York the day before, so I queue it up and watch it hours after my interview.
About five minutes in, there’s a scene in which his daughter (played by Juliette Goglia) speaks into the camera about a school report she is doing on her father. “Yes, my dad is a celebrity and people love him, blah, blah, blah,” she laments, “but why does everyone have to stop and tell him about another person who also has Parkinson’s? Alcoholism is a disease. Do people go up to David Hasselhoff and tell him about their crazy uncles?” I just shake my head and laugh. I wish I could fly back at that very moment and tell him how funny that was. Michael manages to make his everyday life comedic for us. His fans. Because he loves us.