CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview With Michael J. Fox
Aired April 8, 2002 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Michael J. Fox, famous, rich, afflicted with Parkinson's disease, and saying he's a lucky man. An intensely personal hour is next on LARRY KING LIVE.
It's a great pleasure to welcome Michael J. Fox back to LARRY KING LIVE. Always great seeing him, the award-winning television and film star, husband of Tracy Pollan, father of four, Boston Bruin fanatic and afflicted with Parkinson's disease.
I guess that's the first thing -- isn't that weird that that's the first thing they think of now when they talk about you?
MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: Well, you know, convicted felon...
I mean, it's something -- it's certainly the first reality I deal with everyday. So, it's fine. I mean, whatever.
KING: Did you ever, before this, think about Parkinson's Disease?
FOX: No. I mean, not...
KING: But you'd read about it.
FOX: I mean, not in a specific sense, no. I knew of it as a condition, but it was certainly nothing that I ever thought that I'd be dealing with. And I thought if -- I mean, I would have thought that if I would, it would be far in the distance. I mean, I had no concept of there being a such thing as the onset of Parkinson's and something that I would be dealing with.
KING: With this disease, are there, Michael -- and we'll trace a lot -- and the book is going to be terrific for you. I'm glad you did it.
FOX: I am, too.
KING: You say that you consider yourself lucky. It sounds almost like Gehrig: "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." And he's got arterial sclerosis.
FOX: Right. Well, you know, in a way, what I was really saying was that, when something enters your life, that your life is kind of in a set pattern, and this pattern may or may not be working.
When something enters your life that is so big and so non- negotiable, as catastrophic illness, you either go in denial for a while. And all these kind of things I experimented with -- the various degrees of success, or ultimately you accept it and you make space for it. And in making space for it, you illuminate a lot of things that you normally don't have room for and those are usually useless and nonproductive aspects of your being or your life. And in doing that, you then free up -- you simply just look at the world differently. And I started really getting a compassion for people and understanding what was happening.
KING: Become a better parent?
FOX: Oh, I think so. I think a better everything. So it, you know, I call it a gift and then I modified that and said, "It's the gift that just keeps on taking." But it's certainly a gift.
KING: But the downside is humongous, isn't it?
FOX: Well, there's a downside and, you know, in the physical sense, absolutely. And one of the reasons that I wrote the book was, that because -- when I disclosed I had the illness, I'd gone through seven years when nobody knew I had it, you know, nobody outside of a very small circle. So I, in that time, had gone through a lot in my life. But by the time I disclosed it publicly, I was pretty resigned and, in fact, very well-adjusted to it and had seen how in many ways it had made my life better.
And so, that was the face that people saw. And I thought afterwards, after a couple of years, I thought, well, you know, in fairness to people that didn't, you know, that didn't see what I was going through for seven years before anyone knew, I wanted to take the pressure off people who might think: "Well, why am I not that happy? Why am I not that well-adjusted? Why am I not dealing with it so bravely or stoically," or whatever adjective anyone might have applied to me. So I thought, it might be a nice thing to do and kind of do two things at once, which is one was to raise money for the foundation and the other was to tell that story and say...
KING: I'm going to have the executive director of the foundation on at the end of the show to explain about that.
You first learned of it in Gainesville, Florida, right?
FOX: Yes. I mean...
KING: You were doing that terrific "Doc Hollywood?"
FOX: "Doc Hollywood", yes.
KING: I loved that movie.
FOX: It was -- I didn't learn of it specifically, in a sense that I didn't know that that's what I had. But I did. I woke up one morning -- I start the book with this -- and my pinkie was twitching and I was hung over. At the time I had been watching Monday Night Football in the bar, I think, the night before. And I couldn't really figure out what was happening with my finger. And over the course of a year, symptoms had increased. And I had...
KING: But you didn't check out?
FOX: Well, I checked it out initially when I had that first thing, but it was so kind of benign in a way, even though it was annoying and nobody would jump to the conclusion that's what I was facing. So my first thought and the first doctors that saw me thought it might be some physiological thing, like I hit my funny bone for something. And then, I thought maybe it was some injury. And that's the line I was thinking. But it did get worse over the course of a year.
And then finally, my wife saw me jogging one day and I was really sort of lopsided. And my left side was, obviously, not functioning normally. So she urged me to go to the doctor. And I did. And then, I was given the diagnosis.
KING: And how could you hide a disease that is so physically obvious for seven years?
FOX: I'm an actor.
KING: So you obviously didn't have all the movements you have now?
KING: It's progressive.
FOX: It's progressive. And in its early stages, there are all kinds of things that you can do...
KING: Cover it.
FOX: ... to cover it. It was not only my left side at first, it was very hemispheric. It was just on my left side and it started with even a tremor in my left hand, and then kind of a weakness on my left side. But the way the tremor is, you can disrupt it, especially in the early stages, and with an activity, so that -- you know, I go to the cup or do a thing or, you know...
KING: So you were able to do your show?
FOX: Yes. So I could do that as time went on. You know, constantly I was having to add more to my repertoire of little, you know, slight of hand and little tricks more and more. And there were, you know, other things, movement was affected, this certain rigidity, expression.
KING: How didn't it leak? Doctors had to know, and doctors had nurses, and nurses had -- and there are secretaries, and tabloids are paying these people. We all know that. How did it not leak?
FOX: I think as far as doctors and nurses go, I think that they are really underpraised on the level of their discretion...
KING: That's great.
FOX: ... and the seriousness with which they take their responsibilities and they care and the responsibility they feel toward their patients. I mean, my doctors -- I never worried about that. In terms of other people within in my circle, you know, it was just a measure of how blessed I am in terms of the type of family that I have.
KING: Boy you are.
Did anyone a little outside the circle notice anything? Did you ever have people say, "Are you OK"?
FOX: Yes. And, you know, I'm such an idiot and have done so many stupid things. I've played hockey and sports and did lot of my own stunts and all that stuff, so it was always easy to say, you know, I tweaked my shoulder, I'd do this, I did that.
KING: That was kind of an excuse.
FOX: Yes. And it wasn't a matter of getting into full-fledged lying necessarily, but I did feel that, especially since I was still trying and struggling and to try to understand it and to pin it down and dealing with other things in my life that were preventing me from really understanding it, I thought, "Well, it's really, truly only my business."
KING: Who's life is it anyway?
FOX: Yes, exactly. So I didn't feel a lot of, you know, guilt about that.
KING: How about the decision to come forward? How was that made and how did you do it?
FOX: Well, I had gone through, like I said, a lot of changes and a lot of broken down my denial and dealt with other things, you know, drinking and things that could have gotten in the way of really getting a grasp of this. And then...
KING: Do you continue to drink?
FOX: Well, I stopped in '92. I was diagnosed in '91. And my first reaction was, this is a good way to not deal with this. And then in '92, I realized it was not a good way to not deal with it. In fact, I needed to get rid of that altogether. So I did that.
By about '94, '95 I'd really settled into a nice understanding of it. And really, my family had been wonderful. And, like I said, I could do "Spin City" and come back to television, get a -- here in New York where we live, get a regular job, regular hours, and really be able to be near my doctors, and most importantly be near my family, have a regular life; and I did that.
And then, you know, but there's a certain amount of pressure that went with the show and I was pretty...
KING: And an enormous hit.
FOX: It did very well. And then, in time, I just noticed that I was having to make those excuses a lot. I was having to -- I was trying to produce the show, yet I couldn't really be up front. I couldn't do things on their schedule, because when you have Parkinson's, it's really a matter of how your medication goes. So your schedules are very, constantly influx. KING: You can't say 10:00, we're definitely working tomorrow.
FOX: Absolutely not. So -- but I couldn't say why. So I realized that I wanted to be up front with people about it. And my last fear was the audience, I thought, you know, "Will the audience be able to laugh if they know that I'm sick?" I say in the book, can you laugh at someone who is sick and not feel like an a-hole, you know. And so, that was my last obstacle.
KING: And when you released it, you just made an announcement, a press release?
FOX: And I got to the point where I thought, "Well, people have been so wonderful to me" -- I didn't want to be pitied. I didn't want any of that stuff. So I thought -- well, I'll do kind of a two-prong attack. I'll tell Barbara Walters and "People" magazine and then everybody in the whole wide world will know. And that's essentially what happened. And then, the reaction was just beyond my wildest dreams, it was fantastic.
KING: We'll talk about that in a minute.
Michael J. Fox is our guest. The book is "Lucky Man", now on sale everywhere.
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SPIN CITY")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mike, are you OK?
FOX: Oh, guys. Come on, relax, OK. This is nothing I can't fix.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really, because we just spent an entire meeting trying to figure it out and we got nowhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. When you get a chance.
FOX: As long as he can't connect the mirror with Tony DeMarco (ph), they got nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Then I guess we just came over to cheer you up.
FOX: Caitlin (ph) had the same idea.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, Caitlin, I've been feeling a little down lately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FAMILY TIES")
TINA YOTHERS, ACTRESS: In Act Five, Scene Five of "Macbeth", Macbeth reflects on the nature of life. Quote the passage exactly.
FOX: That's a tough one. Give me a second.
MICHAEL GROSS, ACTOR: Hi, gang.
JUSTINE BATEMAN, ACTRESS: Hi, dad.
GROSS: Hey, Alex. How are you doing today.
FOX: Life is but a walking shadow, a poor players that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
GROSS: He seems a little depressed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Michael J. Fox is our guest.
Parkinson's is named after a guy who found it, right?
FOX: Yes. Doctor -- I believe, you get me with these things -- Dr. James Parkinson, I believe.
KING: And it is, for the...
FOX: He didn't so much find it as put a name to it.
KING: For the layman, it is?
FOX: It's a process of cell death in the brain, in an area of the brain called the stancionygra (ph), where a chemical is produced, a neuron called dopamine, which is the chemical that basically your brain uses to communicate to your body any signals and movement. So it's what controls the movement.
KING: When I just did this with my hand...
FOX: Yes, it's dopamine...
KING: ... dopamine communicated that brain to hand. FOX: Yes. Well, brain to another part of the brain called the thalamus. And so -- I'm all tied up with your mics here -- and so what's then happens is those cells that create dopamine are dying. In fact, by the time you get your first symptoms, they say, as much as 80 percent of those cells are already dead.
KING: Isn't dopamine something they give you? Isn't that L- Dopa?
FOX: L-Dopa is synthetic dopamine.
FOX: ... is the therapy...
KING: So the question is, why are you moving all the time?
FOX: Well, right now, at this particular time, it's a function of the medication, because the medication gives you this artificial dopamine so that you -- it's allowing me to move. What's happening when I'm tremoring, there's a paucity of dopamine, is the signal is broken. So, there's no -- so I'm tremoring because there's no constant -- so that when I take the medication now I have...
KING: If you didn't take it, what would happen?
FOX: I would probably have a difficult time talking and be very tremory...
KING: Like we see Muhammad Ali, who I'm with a lot now.
KING: He talks very slow and his right hand shakes. But he doesn't move like you move.
FOX: Yes. Well, because I take the medication. The medication is really too much.
KING: So, he misses a lot.
FOX: Yes. It's like shooting a mosquito with an elephant gun. You can't find the exact right amount to deliver. And also, just you bring up an interesting point with Parkinson's and comparing people. Everybody's different. The disease is very idiopathic. I mean, everybody's symptoms present differently, everybody's reaction to medication is different, and everybody sometimes has mitigating factors. You know, with Muhammad or any of a variety of other people, there may be other mitigating factors. So it's difficult...
KING: So you could have 10 Parkinson's patients, all might look and react differently?
FOX: Yes, but if you were... KING: Which makes it a tough nut to crack.
FOX: Yes. It's difficult to diagnose, I think, especially with younger patients. And, yes, it's been historically a difficult thing to...
KING: Is it life shortening, Michael?
FOX: I don't believe so. I mean, there certainly...
KING: Quality of life.
FOX: Quality of life. And I think, yes, it can get to a point -- I mean, better to ask a medical professional, but it gets to a point where I think it can affect perhaps your resilience to certain things or your ability to deal with things.
KING: Are you scared?
FOX: Am I scared? No.
KING: Why not?
FOX: Well, of what?
KING: You've got a disease, an incurable disease. You face it bravely, you write a great book.
FOX: Yes, we all do.
KING: Yes, we're all terminal.
KING: But you know...
FOX: And then it comes down to quality of life.
FOX: The quality of my life is fantastic. So...
KING: You have a great wife, great -- you got a new kid, huh?
FOX: I have a new daughter. And there is so much in life still to do. I don't look at this -- again, it was a journey of finding a way to understand that who I am is not me minus this, it's who I am plus this. I mean, it's whatever this has affected in me, whatever changes it effects, and how it manifests itself is up to me to really -- to look at that and to see that it's positive.
But, no, I don't think it's going to shorten my life. In fact, I think by the time -- well before I get to the natural end of my life, we'll have resolved this.
KING: You're positive? FOX: Oh, I'm absolutely sure of it. So I don't think of it in those terms, I don't spend a lot of time -- I spend no time worrying about -- no, I'm certainly not afraid.
KING: Why do some -- I've talked to many -- miss them, not take the medication some days?
FOX: Well, anything that's not curative, that's purely therapeutic...
KING: You get annoyed.
FOX: Yes. I mean, it's fettered living through chemistry, you know. It can be, you know -- and you have a choice. And also the thing, too, is that there's a belief that, especially with the levodopa, that it's a point where it reaches critical mass and it no longer works with some patients, and so you want to pick your shots.
KING: How annoying is it -- we're looking at it -- how annoying is it to you to be in constant movement?
FOX: I'm not even really aware of it.
KING: Really? It becomes man adopts to situation?
FOX: Yes. And also my family, the people that live with me, the people that know me oftentimes don't notice it and will say to me -- I'll say, "Moving around a lot?" or "Is this distracting?" And they'll say, "I don't really even see it."
So, no. I can eat a lot, I mean, burn a lot of calories.
KING: You can? And you don't gain weight?
KING: OK. How about acting?
FOX: Well, the thing about acting now is obviously...
KING: That's what you do. I mean, that's your profession.
FOX: That's what I did, yes.
KING: Yes. You have no profession now?
FOX: I have lots of professions. I run a production company. We still produce "Spin City." We develop other shows. I just wrote a book, which I wrote and spent a year writing. I'm a father of four. I do a lot of things. So I'm always...
KING: Do you miss performing?
FOX: Not really. I do a lot of voice stuff. And actually I had kind of gotten to a point where, again, you know, do I miss it? Yes, I mean, in the sense that I was good at it and it paid well. But was I ready for other challenges? Absolutely. And has this kind of forced me to take on other challenges? Yes. And in that way I'm grateful to it for that as well.
KING: So when you watch a movie you don't envy the person on the screen, a role you might have done?
FOX: No. And when I watch a lot of the industry stuff, I down right feel giddy...
... because I'm not there doing it, so.
KING: The initial stages, though, were they not tough to accept to someone who's been healthy, hockey player, activist, to suddenly find he has this? I mean, wasn't there an initial stage of anger?
FOX: No. I didn't...
FOX: I didn't feel a lot of anger. I had a lot of denial. I had a lot of panic, and I had a lot of negotiation. Really, if you want to look at it that way in the kind of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross five stages of grief thing, I was heavy into negotiation. I was heavy into thinking: "There's got to be a way out of this. There's got to be a way that I can do something or manipulate this in some way." And so, there was a lot of that.
And in terms of my career, though, it was -- I'm going to take advantage of everything I can now, make as much money as I can now, do as many films as I can now, because I've been pretty much given this deadline of 10 years.
KING: Pick up from there in a minute. Michael J. Fox, what can we say? What a guy. The author of "Lucky Man."
By the way, Peter Jennings will be with us Wednesday; Conan O'Brien on Thursday.
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FAMILY TIES")
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I apologize if he isn't, but is this person related to you.
MEREDITH BAXTER BIRNEY, ACTRESS: Alex, why are you in a white coat.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's been making rounds.
FOX: I was making an informal survey of the quality of care in this institution. My sister is going to be up there on that table tomorrow and I want to make sure everything is OK. By the way, I think Mrs. Ferguson in 104 could use another 20 milligrams. GROSS: Alex!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "DOC HOLLYWOOD")
FOX: Everybody out. Let's go.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Oh.
FOX: Come on, the Disney Hour's over.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Oh, I'm doing fine, Doc Hollywood. He doesn't know what it means to be beloved.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Hold on, Doc.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: If you've come to clean the room, my bedpan's ripe.
Oh, no. Not Maddie's (ph) sweet-potato pie.
FOX: You can raze me all you want, Doc. I saved your life last night. You know it and I know it. Gotcha.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was from the wonderful movie "Doc Hollywood," the movie in which Michael J. Fox learned he was -- did you know there, over that scene with...
FOX: No, I didn't know that I had the specific diagnosis that I had.
KING: You were feeling bad, though.
FOX: Well, no, I just had a twitch in my finger.
KING: Are there days you feel fine?
FOX: Again, it's really hard to -- the way I put it to people is, what you might call fine and you might call feeling good is I feel good when you might look at me and say, "Oh, God, that would feel horrible." It's not like that.
KING: Any pain associated with Parkinson's?
FOX: Only when I have muscle cramping and stuff like that, you know, which I get occasionally.
KING: Do you sleep through the night?
FOX: Yes, absolutely. That's the time when someone with Parkinson is completely still. KING: What changes? Can you have a normal sex life, food life?
FOX: Well, I've got a five-month old daughter, so you do the math on that.
KING: OK. So you can have pretty much normal anything except what kinds of activity?
FOX: For me -- again, everybody is different. Everybody's progress is different. You know, for me that's the case. And also, again, you know -- well, I put it to people, sometimes I say, "What you would consider comfortable, I'm never comfortable." But am I comfortable for me? A lot of times.
So that what's happening on the inside and what's happening on the outside are two separate entities. I write in the book that when it started, it affected my brain was initiating it even worse than my mind, but they are two separate things; the brain and the mind. And so, in the same way, you know, body language -- I'm living proof that body language lies.
So that you may look at what I'm doing and come to a conclusion. It has nothing to do with it. It's like, pay no attention to the man in front of the curtain. You know, what...
So I feel good a lot of the times because good is a relative thing.
KING: How important was the wife -- is the wife?
FOX: My wife?
KING: In this whole...
FOX: Yes, she's fantastic. She is amazing. Tracy is incredibly wise, incredibly -- you know...
KING: Well, she's in New York.
FOX: ... smart, steady. She's a New Yorker. She doesn't have to be (UNINTELLIGIBLE). She's incredible. You know, for an actress, at the same time, too, she's not overly dramatic. So she was real steadying for me. And she also let me kind of go a little nuts and trusted me to go a little nuts when this first happened. She knew...
KING: Let you go?
FOX: ... that at least on the way back -- Yes -- and not to freak out about it.
KING: How do the kids react to this? Each one must be different.
FOX: If you would sit down with them and have this conversation, they wouldn't know what you were talking about in the sense of it being...
KING: How old's the oldest?
FOX: He's 12.
KING: All right. When he goes to school, does he say, "My daddy moves around a lot. My daddy has Parkinson's?"
FOX: No. They know it. They're aware of it. But it's not -- you know, they would think that this is -- the level of attention they get, I'm sure it doesn't compute with what they know of their lives. I mean, my son certainly is very smart and tries to understand from a scientific point-of-view. My daughters just, you know, call me shaky dad, so there's no -- again, it's very -- it's a point that I try to make is that once -- if something happens to you, you integrate it into your life and your life goes on. You have a choice.
You know, again, not underestimating or understating the impact you can have on people's lives and, certainly, you've got to remember too, for me, I don't have to worry about the mortgage payment, I don't have to worry about losing my job or my insurance.
KING: Yes. I mean, how about people with Parkinson's then that...
FOX: Oh, it's overwhelming especially for young, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people who are in their 30s, 40s, you know, and all of a sudden this think happens. I was spared that. So there's no way that I can candy coat the impact of that.
KING: How about depression?
FOX: Again, I went through it early on when I was, you know, still in denial and trying to keep it at a distance. But now I certainly don't -- I'm not depressed now.
KING: The book is an autobiography, right, so you deal with how you got into the business and all that that occurred to you, right? I mean, you deal with your career as well?
FOX: Yes, to an extent.
KING: Because you were always an up person. Weren't you? I mean, the attitude that you've taken into diseases is an attitude that was always you. You came into a room smiling -- were you faking?
FOX: I don't know I was faking. I mean...
KING: You were always up. Every time I saw you. I've never seen you...
FOX: Well, the thing's that interesting, again, I guess this is one of the things that people say a lot when they're promoting books, but like I say in the book...
KING: It's OK. The book is going to go through the roof. FOX: But like I say in the book, I couldn't be still, until I couldn't be still, in that when I was younger -- what I do in the book, and you say does it talk about career whatever, I follow some things in my career because it's basically a parallel. It's kind of being famous, which is this thing that happens to you, and a thing that you go through.
And there's being sick, which is this thing that happens to you, and a thing you go through. There's a big difference. One is real and one is not. And so what I went through in, you know, becoming famous and having success prepared me in a way, but not all the way to go through what I went through with the illness. It was covering that last distance where all the lessons were learned.
KING: Boy, you have really self-examined this, haven't you?
KING: You say negotiation. You've done this with yourself, right? Nobody's help?
FOX: Well, you know, in writing the book, you know, I spent basically -- locked myself up for a year, and got all this out. So...
KING: I mean, did you have psychological help through this?
FOX: Yes, at a point I had to when I started therapy. I really got to a point where, in not looking at the fact that I had the disease, I had shut everything off, because the way I was sitting in a room -- if you're not looking at that, you can't see anything. And so until I dealt with that, yes, I couldn't go forward. But once having done that, it was amazing how immediate it was, and how -- you know, then I could start to see the people and how they ready they were to accept it and...
KING: You really are lucky.
FOX: Hugely. Oh yes.
KING: How about sports? We know you played hockey. I remember you -- you would go -- you skated with the Bruins. You write about Bobby Orr.
FOX: Yes, I...
KING: Maybe the greatest player of all.
FOX: Yes, he was a ten.
KING: Now a Bruin fan would say definitely.
FOX: Yes, he was great. What's great about Bobby Orr, I find myself very much, the way he would ride the puck, you know.
KING: He changed the way defenses work.
FOX: He could take the puck when his team had a penalty. He'd just take the puck away from the other team for two minutes. He'd just skate around...
KING: But you went and skated a lot. You liked it?
Absolutely. Actually skating and skiing are two things that are really kind of relatively easy for me, because they're not interrupted movement; I'm just gliding. And you know, skating I'd take a couple strides, and I go on. So it's -- yes, it hasn't been that hard.
KING: You say everyone's different. Two weeks ago when I MC'd the Ali dinner, where they honored you last year in Phoenix. He had trouble walking up a step.
FOX: Right. And it's a matter of how long you've had it.
KING: You know, the brave thing about this for people who go forward with it, you know, as they go -- Ali could hide, you could be an executive, and not have to be seen.
KING: Janet Reno runs for governor.
FOX: Well, I think what happened with me was again the reaction that I got, and the way that people responded were so empathetic, and not sympathetic, but empathetic, and there was a real desire on the part of the people to learn about it.
And I thought, it's just a great opportunity. It's just a fantastic opportunity, and I couldn't see anything that could be as important as stepping into this now. And also, I mean, talk about lucky, I realized in all the years that this has existed, I mean you talk about Doctor Parkinson defining it in the 19th century, but it existed since like cavemen. And God knows what they would do -- they probably boiled people in oil, because they thought they were possessed.
And so now by pure accident of birth, I'm alive at a time where science is about to figure this out. And not only this, but ALS, and MS and all these things are going to be done within the next 20 years or so. So, because I embrace that, and step into that, and feel like that's a fantastic privilege.
KING: I mean, a lot of it may require stem cell research, and I want to ask Michael J. Fox his thoughts on that right after this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FOX: I'm five-foot-five, 130 pounds. He's six-foot-two, 255. We may look a little different, but we're actually very similar. We're both determined, we're both opinionated, and we both have Parkinson's. There's a lot of people out there just like us and they need your help. Together, we can win this fight.
MUHAMMAD ALI, FORMER BOXER: Five-foot-five? You wish.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY")
FOX: Ted is a great guy. Ted is a hell of a guy. I'll tell you, you've got to admire his style, you know, his soa d'vive (ph), his savoir affaire (ph), his spretziturra (ph).
You're not necessarily meant for a heart to heart, but you've been a good friend to me and it's what I'm going to need. And he's generous in his own callous way. You know, you two very close?
TRACY POLLAN, ACTRESS: I think he's an ass.
FOX: Exactly. I got to go wash my hands. I'll be right back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You like working with the wife?
FOX: Yes, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) when you said the wife.
KING: The wife.
FOX: Yes, the wife. The little woman.
KING: The little lady.
FOX: Yes. I really love working with her. I met her on the set of "Family Ties."
KING: Is it harder to work with someone you're involved with?
FOX: I don't think so.
KING: Little less professional.
FOX: You know, I think it's probably -- you know, it's hard to separate work from life, you know, I'm sure on some level. But, I mean, she's so fantastic. She's made me a better an actor every time I work with her, so. KING: We have a mutual friend, who I know from almost childhood and you know from working with, Gary Goldberg, who produced "Spin City." Did he not want you initially?
FOX: Well, you mean, for "Family Ties."
KING: For "Family Ties."
FOX: For "Spin City"...
KING: "Spin City", he naturally wanted you. Boy, that's your baby.
FOX: We went into it as partners. But...
KING: "Family Ties" was...
FOX: No, he didn't.
KING: Who did they want?
FOX: He wanted Matthew Broderick, who couldn't do it or didn't want to do it. And, you know, it was not the lead role. It was...
KING: I know, third, like, right?
FOX: It was third kind of -- probably, you know, last. And so, I wrote it for Gary. And at this time I was so destitute. I mean, I was broke. I had no phone. I had no furniture. I wrote it and I read for him. And it took a month before he'd see me again. He really didn't want to see me again. He was pretty adamant about it. And then, I went in and read again, and then he was convinced I was the person. And then Brandon Tartakoff (ph) didn't want me. And said, you know, I was too short to be Michael and Meredith's child.
But then Gary was great and he really championed me, and Brandon kept me, even though he at first wanted to fire me. And then, down the line when "Back to the Future" was a big hit Brandon Tartakoff was so great, because he kind of came out and he said, "You want to know what an idiot I am? I didn't want to hire Michael J. Fox."
And the reason he had given to Gary too is he said, "Can you see this face on a lunch box?" So I had a lunch box made with my face on it. And it said, "Dear Brandon, this is for you to put your crow on. Lots of Love, Michael J. Fox." And Brandon kept it in his office at the time...
KING: Was your size ever a hindrance in your career? There must have been some parts you didn't get, maybe early on.
FOX: You don't get a thing from the producer saying, "We didn't hire you because you were too short," so it's hard to pin it on that. But I think growing up, you know, whatever challenge you face -- I never (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it as challenge when I was growing up. KING: Never?
FOX: No. I was aware, you know, maybe a lot of girls I liked were taller than me, and maybe they had a problem with it.
KING: Did you want to be a hockey player?
FOX: I played hockey growing up. I mean, I think I realized at a certain point that I wasn't going to be in the NHL, but if you look at guys like Theo Fleury, he's...
KING: A little taller than you.
FOX: Yes, not much. He had these thick socks on.
KING: Did you think "Back to the Future" would be the hit it was?
FOX: When I did "Back to the Future" I was doing "Family Ties" at the same time and I was so out of it...
KING: And normally television people don't make a big transition.
FOX: I was doing both projects. I'd work on the show from, like 10 to 5:00, and leave the set and go to "Back to the Future" and work until about 3:00 in the morning. You're driving me home, I'd go to sleep. I'd wake up. I do the same thing over and over again. There were times I couldn't even remember doing it. And I was just completely spaced out.
KING: Were you surprised then at how well it did?
FOX: Yes. I was shocked.
KING: It went through the roof.
FOX: It was amazing. It was good, life change.
KING: In retrospect, why was that such a hit?
FOX: Well, I think it had cross-generational appeal. And it tapped into themes that every generation could relate to, and the curiosity people had. And the story of Oedipus goes back thousands of years, so it had a lot going for it. And Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale (ph) just wrote an amazing script and Bob Zemeckis is a genius, really great.
KING: Back to the Parkinson's: Is it genetic?
FOX: No. They don't know for a fact, but it's very unlikely that it's directly genetic. There may be genetic predisposition of certain other elements. For example, it may be related to reaction to certain metal alloys or certain pesticides or whatever. So you may have a genetic predisposition toward being...
KING: Anyone in your family ever have it?
FOX: No. Say you may have a farmer who had it in your family; that may because they have a general predisposition and they've all worked with the same pesticide. They don't know yet. They're still working on it.
KING: More with Michael J. Fox. The book is "Lucky Man."
By the way, in the last segment we'll be joined by Debbie Brooks, who's executive director of the Michael J. Fox Foundation; find out what that does. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "BACK TO THE FUTURE")
FOX: Look at this picture: my brother, my sister and me. Look at her sweatshirt, Doc, class of 1984.
CHRISTOPHER LLOYD, ACTOR: Pretty mediocre photographic face. They cut off your brother's hair.
FOX: I'm telling the truth, Doc. You got to believe me.
LLOYD: Then tell me, Future Boy, who's president of the United States in 1985?
FOX: Ronald Reagan.
LLOYD: Ronald Reagan, the actor. Then who's vice president, Jerry Lewis?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT")
FOX: You have a deeper love of this country than any man I've ever known, and I want to know what it says to you that in the past seven weeks, 59 percent of Americans have begun to question your patriotism?
MICHAEL DOUGLAS, ACTOR: Look, if people want to listen to me...
FOX: They don't have a choice! Bob Rumson (ph) is the only one doing the talking. People want leadership, Mr. President. In the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it, they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there is no water, they'll drink the sand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Heck of a movie. Were you -- was that a departure role for you? FOX: Yes. It was nice because it was not a lead role, and I had been doing lead roles, but in pictures that I wasn't necessarily happy with. So it was a nice opportunity and I had...
KING: Liked the script of "American President."
FOX: Yes. I just loved the script. And it was this great part. And I was very -- I had kind of at this point resolved to not doing any work that I didn't love. And I just said I'm tired doing things...
KING: Who would have ever thought that Martin Sheen would then later become a hit as a president?
FOX: It's a very interconnected business.
KING: Isn't it? Did fame ever get to you? Were you ever a celeb?
FOX: You know, I write a lot about celebrity in the book in the sense that it's a very funny thing. Celebrity -- fame doesn't really start in the mind of the famous person. It starts in the mind of the audience.
KING: But then the famous person becomes aware.
FOX: Well, no, then they get the illusion that they somehow control it. And therein lies the danger, you know, when you kind of think, well, here is this thing. And then you start to feel entitled. And the minute you start to feel you can manage it or control it, you're taking it far too seriously and it's going to get you. So, I think there are times. At the same time, too, I always had -- maybe it was coming from Canada, I don't know, but I always had this feeling of, well, this isn't real.
KING: You mean, I'm not entitled to this.
FOX: Yes, like the first time I won an Emmy, you know, the first thing that I thought up to say was I feel four feet tall, which is a funny joke, but at the same time too, I think, was just an admission on my part that there's no way anyone can measure up to this. And then I met Tracy, who has such a tremendously balanced view of the world.
KING: How bad was the drinking?
FOX: Well, I partied a lot when I was younger. And that was just, again, having to do with this kind of this imposter syndrome any minute someone is going to bang on the door and tell me good-bye. So I thought, well, I'll just be drunk when they get here.
But I didn't drink when I was working, you know, because...
KING: Could that have had an effect on Parkinson's, do they think? FOX: No. No, not at all. But what happened was then when I was diagnosed, then I started to drink in a different way. I was drinking, just being alone drinking and just kind of...
KING: Get away?
FOX: Just get away from it and not look at it and not deal with it. That's when I realized it was something I wanted to stop doing.
KING: Why are you so optimistic about a cure?
FOX: Well, I think what I learned when I started to really become aware of what was happening with the science and really what the state of Parkinson's was and what the history had been was that the science is way ahead of the money. This isn't a case where they don't really know what to pursue and don't know the areas that may bear fruit.
KING: They do know?
FOX: They do know. So it's just a matter of getting as much money to them as we can, as much support to them as we can.
KING: Does stem cell play a part?
FOX: Stem cell is a very big possibility and a very big part of it. I don't like to rule out anything, but certainly that's a very promising thing.
KING: Would you have been happier if the president had gone more with it?
FOX: Oh, yes. The president really -- he did a great thing in that he didn't...
KING: Rule it out.
FOX: In fact, he allowed it to continue. He put some pretty severe limitations on it. I understand the thinking behind that, but I think that he could have achieved what he wanted to in limiting it, in other words, check the ethicacy of it and really manage it in a much different way that might have been more effective to reach the result of curing a lot of Americans from a lot of disease. But it's a positive thing that he did.
KING: We're going to talk about the foundation in a minute. Do you have any dietary restrictions at all with this disease?
FOX: Yes. I can't eat hot molten metals.
KING: I was going to take him to this great place tonight, the hot molten metal place on 43rd.
FOX: It's Rivets. It's tasty, red-hot rivets.
KING: For desperate people. We'll be back with our remaining moments and we'll be joined by Debbie Brooks. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SPIN CITY")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mike, promise me you won't let me down?
FOX: What are you worried about? I am your best man. I will be the best best man. In fact, I don't think that term even does me justice. I want you to think of me as your ultimate man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, ultimate man. Did you take care of the cake?
FOX: I pre-ordered a seven-layer coconut-creme cake and had figurines custom made to the top that look exactly like you and Claudia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One thing: I'm allergic to coconut.
FOX: See? That's why your figurine is covered with hives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FOX: I'm one of a million involuntary experts on Parkinson's Disease in the United States, battling its destructive nature as we wait for a cure. We need a rescue and the country should know it. I'm also here because I'm a guy with PD who happens to be on TV. Because of that, many people have felt comfortable reaching out to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with are remaining moments. And we're joined by Debbie Brooks, the executive director of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, formerly vice president at Goldman Sachs.
Why did you leave that kind of post to join this?
DEBORAH BROOKS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MICHAEL J. FOX FOUNDATION: Well, I had some time off in between, but I left investment banking to really move on and do some work in the non-profit sector. So, I did a few -- work with some start up non-profits, and this came along. And I thought the ingredients were spectacular.
KING: What does the Michael Fox Foundation do?
BROOKS: We really do two things. We're raising private funds to fund research, and we direct the research. So, in essence...
KING: You say who gets it?
BROOKS: We go through a scientific peer review process to determine where the most promising research is, anywhere the world, and then we make sure that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) research.
KING: How did you find her?
FOX: Well, what's great about Debbie is we had a search for someone for this position. And a lot of people on our board are actually from the business community, and from the financial community. And one of the reasons is we wanted to reinvent the way this kind of philanthropy, this kind of work was done and take a real entrepreneurial approach to it, to take a real business approach to it, and say, we want to be obsolete in about 10 years.
KING: You want to go out of business?
FOX: We want to go out of business. So, in finding Debbie who is a genius administrator and also has a big heart and understands what the goals are, we're able to really take, like I said, an entrepreneurial competitive approach to this and redefine the way it's done, and really accomplish some things that heretofore hadn't been done, and the way that we streamlined the grant application process influenced the federal government in fact, the NIH, to take our approach to it.
KING: It was based in New York?
BROOKS: Yes, we're based here in New York City.
KING: How do people who want to help help?
BROOKS: Well, it's amazing how many people do want to help. It's extraordinary, just hundreds of letters a week from people all over the world.
KING: You have a Web site?
BROOKS: We have a Web site -- people...
KING: Which is what?
BROOKS: It's very easy, and we get tons of traffic. People are interested in this. Parkinson's families have been out there looking and wanting to have the same kind of hope.
KING: 10 million Americans have it, 60,000 will get it in 2002. And you're as optimistic as him.
BROOKS: Absolutely. I mean, the scientists are the ones who help us share that optimism. They're pretty clear. The science is there, and it's really a matter of pulling, getting money focused on helping that science advance. And so -- you know, one thing we can't control the scientific outcome, but we know that by accelerating the process, which is very much what we've focused on, is getting the money in hand and quickly finding the most advantageous path that that money can take and moving it along.
FOX: The scientists have been the ones who really made up this ten year thing. The scientists...
...you can get up the cash.
KING: Can you find a bullet? A magic bullet?
BROOKS: Yes, I mean it's really looking at...
KING: That will both cure him and prevent future Michael J. Foxes?
BROOKS: We're pursuing enough different things that we could be doing several things at once. And we could be looking at better treatments. We could look at new therapies. We could be helping diagnose people earlier. I mean, there are all sorts of outcomes because we are pursuing many paths at the same time. And all -- there are many elements in this that are promising.
So we could really -- we could move this along very, very quickly.
FOX: The science has at this level -- it crosses over into many things. So we deal with stuff like stem cells. The impact isn't just on Parkinson's. It's been on everything from diabetes to ALS, to MS to cancers -- it's huge. I mean it's really revolutionary.
KING: Only have a minute left. How do you like working with him?
BROOKS: Extraordinary. I mean, you can imagine trying to take on this effort is rewarding enough. But it really helps to have incredibly devoted people. His leadership is incredible. I mean, he's a bright man, has great instincts, and he's so committed to this. His passion really speaks loudly and firmly to the Parkinson's patients out there and their families.
KING: We have a modern-day Gehrig. It's you. He said, he considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
FOX: He had a much better arm than me.
KING: Michael J. Fox. The book is "Lucky Man." Debbie Brooks is executive director of the Michael J. Fox Foundation. You get them at www.michaeljfox.org. Thanks for joining us. "NEWSNIGHT" with Aaron Brown is next. I'm Larry King. Good night.
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