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Most of us know Michael J. Fox as the famous actor and author, but did you know that he has been living with Parkinson’s disease for 30 years?  Despite this serious health setback, he chooses to live a life through the lens of optimism and humour. His story teaches us all about early-onset Parkinson’s disease.

Michael J. Fox and Early-onset Parkinson’s

Everything changed for Michael J. Fox when he was filming Doc Hollywood in 1991. The star developed a tremor in his pinky finger. After a consultation with a neurologist, Michael was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease (PD) at only 29 years of age.

According to the Michael J. Fox website.  he decided not to share his diagnosis publicly for several years and continued working regularly in movies, including For Love or Money, The American President and Frighteners. In 1995 he spent more time with his family in New York, after the birth of his twins and to be closer to his wife Tracey.

Michael returned to television as Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty in ABC’s Spin City. This role won him another Emmy Award, three Golden Globe Awards, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards. It was during the series’ third season when Michael had come to terms with the fact that he could no longer hide his Parkinson’s. And soon after he decided to share his diagnosis with the press and public.

Michael retired after his last season on Spin City from full-time acting to pursue and focus of advocacy and fundraising for Parkinson’s disease.

Why did Michael J. Fox get Parkinson’s so young?

Michael J. Fox said it’s “very possible” that he “did some damage” during the height of his fame while speculating over what may have contributed to his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. Michael made the comments in an interview with Jane Pauley during the most recent episode of “CBS Sunday Morning.”

“Is it possible you did some damage?” Pauley asked Fox on Sunday, referring to his diagnosis. “Yeah, very possible,” Fox said. “I mean, there’s so many ways that you can… that I could’ve hurt myself. I could’ve hit my head. I could’ve drank too much at a certain developmental period.”

Michael added that his diagnosis is likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors. He later added: “Still, it’s hard to explain to people how lucky I am, because I also have Parkinson’s. Some days are a struggle. Some days are more difficult than others. But the disease is this thing that’s attached to my life — it isn’t the driver.”

Who is at risk?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that mostly affects the dopamine-producing neurons in the brain, according to Parkinson’s Foundation. The site states that “scientists believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors are the cause of Parkinson’s disease.”

”What we say is that genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger,” Fox said. 

It appears that no one else in Michaels’s family suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

A virus may have contributed to Michael’s Parkinson’s disease

When Michael J. Fox was working on a CBC sitcom as a teenager, he contracted a virus that some researchers say may have caused him to later develop Parkinson’s disease. Fox worked on the show Leo and Me in Vancouver in 1977. Researchers studying the degenerative disease theorize that exposure to viruses or environmental toxins can trigger its onset years later.

According to Dr. Donald Calne, director of the Neurodegenerative Disorders Centre at the University of B.C. Hospital, Parkinson’s can develop in clusters of people, such as teachers or workers who live close to each other.

Michael is one of four Leo and Me workers who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  Dr.Calne is treating two people who worked with Fox on the short-lived Canadian sitcom. Indeed, Japanese researchers have established that a virulent form of the flu, caused by a virus, can make its way into the same part of the brain that Parkinson’s attacks.

The Parkinson’s gene

Most people with Parkinson’s have no known genetic link. Their children will likely never develop Parkinson’s. There are some known genetic variations that increase the risk of getting Parkinson’s, but most people with these variations do not get Parkinson’s. Like many other diseases, Parkinson’s is a result of a complex interaction between genes and environmental factors.

In a small number of people, Parkinson’s is inherited and can affect multiple family members. Their children may have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s. However, there is no guarantee they will develop PD.

Scientists have identified several genetic mutations that can increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s. If someone tests positive for a mutation in a Parkinson’s gene, it does not necessarily mean they will develop PD. Some people who have mutations in the genes associated with Parkinson’s never develop PD.

A person may inherit a hereditary genetic mutation that increases their risk for Parkinson’s however, they may also inherit other genes, be exposed to environmental factors or have lifestyle choices that offset the risk. Genetic testing is currently available for the following genes related to Parkinson’s: GBA, PARK7, SNCA, LRRK2, parkin and PINK1.

Can Parkinson’s be passed from parent to child?

It’s rare for Parkinson’s disease to be passed down from parent to child. Most cases of Parkinson’s aren’t hereditary. But people who get early-onset Parkinson’s disease are more likely to have inherited it.

Having a family history of Parkinson’s disease may increase the risk that you’ll get it. This means that having a parent or sibling with Parkinson’s slightly increases the risk.

In most cases, the cause of Parkinson’s disease remains unknown. However, researchers have identified multiple risk factors that can increase your chances of getting this disease.

Risk factors for Parkinson’s disease include:

  • mutations in specific genes associated with Parkinson’s
  • having a family history of Parkinson’s or a first-degree family member with Parkinson’s
  • being older, especially above the age of 60
  • exposure to herbicides and pesticides
  • being assigned male at birth
  • history of brain injury

Early-onset Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is most common in people who are older than 50, but some younger people may also get Parkinson’s disease. When it affects someone younger than age 50, it’s called early-onset Parkinson’s disease. You may be more likely to get early-onset Parkinson’s disease if someone in your family has it. While common symptoms of Parkinson’s may be similar no matter what age you are, the progression is often different.

  • Young people often have more involuntary movement problems due to the most commonly prescribed Parkinson’s disease medication, levodopa. For this reason, early-onset patients are usually initially treated with alternatives to levodopa.
  • Other problems associated with Parkinson’s such as memory loss, confusion, and balance difficulties tend to be less frequent in young people with the disease.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research

In the year 2000 Michael launched The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which was deemed as ‘’the most credible voice on Parkinson’s research in the world.’’ By the New York Times. The Michael J. Fox Foundation is today the world’s largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson’s drug development. The foundation has led to act in search of a cure and is a commanding voice in scientific philanthropy.

To date, the foundation has raised over $1.75 billion dollars and has significantly moved the field closer to a cure.

“Parkinson’s patients are the experts on what we have. We have a responsibility as patients to share our experience — what works for us, what we respond to, what we can contribute to research.”

— Michael J. Fox

Living with Parkinson’s disease

After getting the Foundation on a strong and steady path ahead, Michael agreed to return to acting in supporting roles, this was only if Michael could incorporate his PD symptoms into the characters he was playing. Michael took recurring guest roles on Scrubs and Boston Legal and earned his fifth Emmy Award playing Dwight on Rescue Me.

Six more Emmy nominations followed for Michael’s critically acclaimed role as Louis Canning on The Good Wife, and for a hilarious turn as himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm. In 2009 Michael produced and hosted an Emmy-nominated special for ABC, Adventures of an Incurable Optimist.

Michael J. Fox is an Advocate for Parkinson’s Disease

Michael has spoken and written extensively about his predisposition to look at challenges through a lens of optimism and humour, including his Parkinson’s disease. Michael’s autobiography, Lucky Man, became a New York Times number-one bestseller.

Michael also wrote three following best-selling books: Always Looking Up; A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future and No Time Like the Future. Three of his audiobooks were nominated for Grammy Awards, and in 2010, Always Looking Up won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album.

Honorary Degrees and Achievements

Michael is the recipient of honorary degrees from the following academic institutions: The Karolinska Institute in Sweden (which bestows the Nobel Prize in the sciences); New York University; the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; the University of British Columbia; and Stony Brook University.

Michael has received a handful of humanitarian awards for his work, including inclusion in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 people who are transforming the world.

In 2000 he was named GQ Man of the Year and received an appointment as Officer of the Order of Canada in 2010. Fox is the recipient of several lifetime achievement awards for accomplishments in acting, including the 2011 Hoerzu Magazine Golden Camera Award and the 2010 National Association of Broadcasters.

In total, he has received 18 Emmy nominations and five wins; four Golden Globe Awards; one Grammy Award; two Screen Actors Guild Awards; and the People’s Choice Award.

Michael J. Fox continues to share his story

In 2022, Michael J. Fox was presented with an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, is a documentary film about the remarkable life of Michael J. Fox and his struggle with Parkinson’s disease. The film premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in January and was then released on May 12, 2023, on Apple TV+.

Beating the Odds

We so admire Michael J. Fox because he has accomplished far beyond what most of us accomplish let alone someone diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He truly is beating the odds while simultaneously contributing in significant ways regarding Parkinson’s disease and continuously working at a cure.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation has made leaps and bounds in the field and without a doubt will continue to do so. If you wish to donate, fundraise, participate in research or advocate please visit The Michael J. Fox Foundation website, HERE.

  2. Michael J. Fox Says He May Have Done ‘Some Damage’ Before Parkinson’s (
  3. Michael J. Fox, three co-workers at 70s TV show, all got Parkinson’s | CBC News
  4. If My Grandpa Has Parkinson’s Will I Get It –
  5. Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia | Johns Hopkins Medicine
  6. Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease | APDA (
Tamlyn Bingle

Tamlyn Bingle

With an ever growing interest and appetite for sustainability, Tamlyn Bingle is an ambitious writer, her objective is to always share knowledgeable and insightful information in the written space. Tamlyn also enjoys living a healthy and active lifestyle, appreciative of nature and all creatures great and small.


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