By Alicia Powell
NEW YORK (Reuters) – For his armies of fans, Michael J. Fox will always be the eternal teenager, the 1980s heartthrob, the fresh-faced star of “Family Ties” and “Back to the Future”.
Looking back on his long career, he sees himself more as a cockroach.
“You can’t kill a cockroach,” the 61-year-old told Reuters in the run-up to the release of the new documentary “Still”, an unsparing portrait of his life with Parkinson’s disease.
“I say in the movie I’m a tough son of a bitch. I can get through anything I face.”
The Canadian-American actor has had to face a lot from his early career scrabbling around for roles, negotiating his terms over a payphone outside a fast food restaurant, to the diagnosis he kept secret for seven years.
“Still” tells his tale through a mix of interviews, home movies, archive footage and scripted scenes.
“It’s a lot about the experience of living with a chronic disease and finding a way to do it successfully and in a way that … gives you room to be who you are and who you want to be,” Fox said.
The film begins with a re-enactment of him waking after a night out, his little finger trembling.
He recalls turning to alcohol and doing his best to mask the shaking in his left hand while filming the hit comedy show “Spin City”.
In 1998, he announced he had the condition and began campaigning for finding a cure.
In the film he makes no attempts to hide his symptoms. Producers offered him a change to make edits, to cut some of the worst stumbles and shakes. But he turned them down.
They “said you have … three things you can knock out of the film … I said I don’t want any of that, go make the movie,” he said.
Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Fox moved to Los Angeles aged 18.
“People always ask me when I run across an episode of ‘Family Ties’ or a scene from ‘Back to the Future’, how do I feel about seeing myself young and healthy. And it made me think of (late boxer) Muhammad (Ali who also had Parkinson’s)…how did he deal with it when he’d see himself so pretty and articulate, funny and alive and strong,” Fox said.
“I called Lonnie, his wife, and I said you’ve got to tell me about when he saw himself on television… Was he upset, did he feel like he missed it? She said he loved it, he’d watch it all day long. And I thought, well that’s good because he owns it.”
Asked what it meant to him to be still, Fox said: “Sometimes in meditation I can find a place where I’m just in that perfect place of serenity and peace and not questioning anything.
“I couldn’t do that (before). That’s where the title of the movie comes from. I had written in one of my books I couldn’t be still until I could no longer be still.”
In the film Fox also says he has “a chip and a chair”.
“What it means is … you got a stake in the (poker) game, you won’t last long but you got a shot theoretically.
“I’m better than that … because I found a way to beat the house.”
(Reporting by Alicia Powell; Additional reporting and writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Andrew Heavens)