In a new interview with comedian Mike Birbiglia, actor Michael J. Fox opened up more about his battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Fox was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease when he was just 29 years old.
In past interviews, Fox admitted he never wanted to come out publicly about his battle with Parkinson’s Disease but the paparazzi forced his hand. “It was seven or eight years after I had been diagnosed … [and] the paparazzi and stuff, they would stand outside my apartment and heckle at me, like, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ ” Fox explained to ET. “I said, ‘I can’t be making my neighbors deal with this,’ so I came out, and it was great. It was a great thing.”
Fox was just newly married to his wife, Tracy Pollan, whom he met on the set of Family Ties a few years earlier. Now, as the disease progresses, Fox is sharing more about the symptoms he lives with on a daily basis.
Michael J. Fox Shares Shocking Update in His Fight With Parkinson’s Disease
While talking with Birbiglia, Fox revealed that Parkinson’s has left him with tremors, speech difficulty, and muscle rigidity. Additionally, and perhaps the most surprising of them all, Parkinson’s has also left him without his sense of smell.
According to Fox while this symptom may surprise many people, it’s actually a fairly common thing to experience for those battling Parkinson’s Disease. Now, he relies on his memories from childhood to recall different smells from his past.
“I remember the smell of pine, just after Christmas, in this apartment building I lived in. It had balconies, fire escapes, and everyone would put the trees out there for New Year’s before they got picked up, because you couldn’t put them on the road. And the whole place smelled like pine. It smelled like a pine forest.”
According to Medical News Today, “an impaired sense of smell is one of the earliest clinical features of both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. There is an overall reduction in the sense of smell, particularly affecting the individual’s ability to identify and recognize odors.”
While this particular symptom of Parkinson’s disease often goes undiagnosed until additional, more obvious, symptoms of Parkinson’s reveal themselves, researchers are hoping this discovery will aid in early diagnosis for future patients.
As a result of Parkinson’s affecting his memory and his ability to memorize lines, Fox ultimately stepped back from acting. And while Fox has become a legendary actor over the years, he admits he didn’t panic when the disease got in his way of doing just that.
“I didn’t freak out. I just went, ‘Well that’s that. Moving on.’ A key element of this process is memorizing lines, and I can’t do it,” he said. “So, I go to the beach.” Now 61 years old, Fox admits he doesn’t fear death.
“I’m really blunt with people about cures. When they ask me if I will be relieved of Parkinson’s in my lifetime, I say, ‘I’m 60 years old, and science is hard. So, no,’” Fox continued. “I am genuinely a happy guy. I don’t have a morbid thought in my head — I don’t fear death. At all.”
He admitted he came to this calming place after dealing with the death of his father-in-law. “I also had an insight about my father-in-law, who had passed away and always espoused gratitude and acceptance and confidence. I started to notice things I was grateful for and the way other people would respond to difficulty with gratitude. I concluded that gratitude makes optimism sustainable.”
Now, Fox is focusing on different interests, including writing and his foundation. While he can no longer physically write or type, he dictated his last book to an assistant.
“My short-term memory is shot,” Fox told People in 2020. “My guitar playing is no good. My sketching is no good anymore, my dancing never was good and acting is getting tougher to do. So it’s down to writing,” he said. “Luckily, I really enjoy it.”
On his foundation’s website, Fox opted to keep his diagnosis a secret for several years while he continued to live his life in the spotlight. According to The New York Times, The Michael J. Fox Foundation has “the most credible voice on Parkinson’s research in the world.”
As Fox told Birbiglia in their recent interview, “I’m an expert on what it’s like to live with Parkinson’s. And I don’t want to forfeit that in any exchange I have with a doctor. It’s really important. It’s earned, and it’s powerful. […] I’m going to paraphrase Barack Obama, but you are the agent of change that you’re looking for. You are the tool that’ll get this done.”
It is also the “world’s largest non-profit funder of Parkinson’s drug development.” So far, the foundation has raised over $1 billion for research. That is incredible.
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