Michael J. Fox reveals new health scare amid Parkinson's battle: 'It was such a blow'

It’s been 20 years since Michael J. Fox publicly shared his Parkinson’s diagnosis and it’s a disease the actor has learned to live with and even “flourish in.”

“I’d developed a relationship with Parkinson’s,” Fox said in an interview with The New York Times Magazine published Friday, “where I gave the disease its room to do what it needed to do and it left me areas I could still flourish in.”

But his positive outlook was tested last year as the 57-year-old actor privately battled a new health issue.

“I was having this recurring problem with my spinal cord. I was told it was benign but if it stayed static I would have diminished feeling in my legs and difficulty moving,” he shared. “Then all of a sudden I started falling — a lot. It was getting ridiculous.” Fox said he was “trying to parse what was the Parkinson’s and what was the spinal thing.”

He continued, “But it came to the point where it was probably necessary to have surgery. So I had surgery, and an intense amount of physical therapy after. I did it all, and eventually people asked me to do some acting. Last August I was supposed to go to work. I woke up, walked into the kitchen to get breakfast, misstepped and I went down. I fractured the hell out of my arm. I ended up getting 19 pins and a plate. It was such a blow.”

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Michael J. Fox and his children at annual Parkinson's gala
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Michael J. Fox and his children at annual Parkinson's gala
Sam Michael Fox with mother Tracy Pollan and father Michael J. Fox (Photo by KMazur/WireImage for BWR Public Relations)
Michael J. Fox and Sam Michael Fox at the The Waldorf Astoria Grand Ballroom in New York City, New York (Photo by Djamilla Rosa Cochran/WireImage)
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 1: (R-L) Actor Michael J. Fox, actress Tracy Pollen and Sam Fox attend 'A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson's' benefit gala for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers December 1, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by Scott Wintrow/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 21: Schuyler Fox, Aquinnah Fox, Michael J. Fox, Tracy Pollan and Sam Fox attend the 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's' benefit at The Waldorf Astoria Hotel on November 21, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: (L-R) Schuyler Fox, Actor Michael J. Fox and his wife Tracy Pollan, Sam Fox and Aquinnah Fox at the 2011 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson's event at The Waldorf=Astoria on November 12, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 10: (L-R) Schuyler Fox, Sam Fox, Tracy Pollan, Michael J. Fox and Aquinnah Fox on the red carpet at the 2012 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson's event at The Waldorf=Astoria on November 10, 2012 in New York City benefitting The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/MJF2012/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 10: (L-R) Aquinnah Fox, Sam Fox, Tracy Pollan, Michael J. Fox and Schuyler Fox on the red carpet at the 2012 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson's event at The Waldorf=Astoria on November 10, 2012 in New York City benefitting The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 09: Esme Fox, Michael J. Fox, Tracy Pollan and Sam Fox attend 2013 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson's at The Waldorf=Astoria on November 9, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 22: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) (L-R) Aquinnah Fox, Michael J. Fox, Phyllis Piper Fox, Tracy Pollan, Esme Fox, and Sam Michael Fox attend 2014 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson's at The Waldorf=Astoria on November 22, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/MJF2014/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 11: Sam Michael Fox, Esme Annabelle Fox, Schuyler Frances Fox and Aquinnah Kathleen Fox attend the 2017 a funny thing happened on the way to cure Parkinson's benefitting The Michael J. Fox Foundation at the Hilton New York on November 11, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: (L-R) Sam Michael Fox, Tracy Pollan, Michael J. Fox and Esme Fox attend the Michael J. Fox Foundation A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinsons Gala at The Waldorf=Astoria on November 14, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/MJF2015/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: Sam Michael Fox, actress Tracy Pollan, actor Michael J. Fox and Esme Annabelle Fox attend the 2016 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson's at The Waldorf Astoria on November 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 11: (L-R) Schuyler Frances Fox, Esmé Annabelle Fox, Michael J. Fox, Tracy Pollan, Sam Michael Fox and Aquinnah Kathleen Fox attend the 2017 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's event at the Hilton New York on November 11, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 11: Sam Michael Fox, Esme Annabelle Fox, Michael J. Fox, Tracy Pollan, Schuyler Frances Fox and Aquinnah Kathleen Fox attend the 2017 a funny thing happened on the way to cure Parkinson's benefitting The Michael J. Fox Foundation at the Hilton New York on November 11, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 10: Schuyler Frances Fox, Aquinnah Kathleen Fox, Michael J. Fox, Tracy Pollan, Sam Michael Fox, and Esme Annabelle Fox on the red carpet of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson's benefitting The Michael J. Fox Foundation at the Hilton New York on November 10, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 10: (L-R) Schuyler Frances Fox, Aquinnah Kathleen Fox, Michael J. Fox, Tracy Pollan, Sam Michael Fox and Esme Annabelle Fox attend A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's 2018 at the Hilton New York on November 10, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
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The Back to the Future star has tried to find some sort of meaning in the ordeal.

“I try not to get too New Age-y. I don’t talk about things being ‘for a reason.’ But I do think the more unexpected something is, the more there is to learn from it,” he explained. “In my case, what was it that made me skip down the hallway to the kitchen thinking I was fine when I’d been in a wheelchair six months earlier? It’s because I had certain optimistic expectations of myself, and I’d had results to bear out those expectations, but I’d had failures too. And I hadn’t given the failures equal weight.”

Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991, although he kept it private for seven years. “I was so scared,” he remembered. “I was so unfamiliar with Parkinson’s. Someone is saying your life is going to be completely changed. Yeah? When? I’m fine now but back then I wasn’t in the ‘I’m fine now.’ I was in the ‘I’m going to be bad.'”

He continued, “That thinking didn’t allow me to trust that I could make a decision without worrying about time restrictions or financial pressures — which were inflated in my head. If I’d had any imperative to accomplish anything with movies, it shouldn’t have been to do as many quick successful ones as I could. It should’ve been to do as many good ones as I could. To do one good one. To find something that meant something to me.”

He starred in a string of films — like Life with Mikey, For Love or Money and Where the Rivers Flow North — that never really hit. (Fox called his decision making around that time “ridiculous.”) In 1994, he started to really grasp what was happening.

46 PHOTOS
Michael J. Fox and wife Tracy through the years
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Michael J. Fox and wife Tracy through the years
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 01: Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
AActress Tracy Pollan and actor Michael J. Fox attend the 40th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on August 28, 1988 at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
NEW YORK - AUGUST 23: Michael J. Fox and wife Tracy Pollan sighting in Manhattan on August 23rd 1988 in London. (Photo by Tom Wargacki/WireImage)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - NOVEMBER 20: Actress Tracy Pollan and actor Michael J. Fox attend the 'Back to the Future Part II' Universal City Premiere on November 20, 1989 at Cineplex Odeon Century Plaza Cinemas in Universal City, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Tracy Pollan and Michael J. Fox during 'Back To The Future Part 2' Los Angeles Premiere at Cineplex Odeon in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Actress Tracy Pollan and actor Michael J. Fox attend the 'Made in Milan' New York City Premiere on October 31, 1990 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actress Tracy Pollan and actor Michael J. Fox on February 18, 1990 walk down Broadway and 72nd Street in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actress Tracy Pollan and actor Michael J. Fox attend the 'Jacob's Ladder' New York City Premiere on October 24, 1990 at Tribeca Film Center in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actress Tracy Pollan and actor Michael J. Fox attend the 'Doc Hollywood' Beverly Hills Premiere on July 31, 1991 at Academy Theatre in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actress Tracy Pollan and actor Michael J. Fox attend the Broadway Show League's 38th Annual Softball Game to Benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS on April 30, 1992 at Central Park in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Fox's mother, Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan during Party For Motion Picture And Television Producers - June 22, 1992 at Gracie Mansion in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actor Michael J. Fox and actress Tracy Pollan attend the 'For Love or Money' New York City Premiere on September 27, 1993 at City Cinemas Cinema 1 in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 01: Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Actor Michael J. Fox, actress Tracy Pollan and son Sam Fox attend the Third Annual 'Kids for Kids' Celebrity Carnival to Benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation on October 1, 1995 at Industria Superstudio in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actor Michael J. Fox and actress Tracy Pollan attend the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund's 17th Annual Equal Opportunity Awards on November 28, 1995 at New York Hilton Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actor Michael J. Fox and actress Tracy Pollan attend the 48th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 8, 1996 at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - 1996: Actor Michael J. Fox and actress Tracy Pollan pose for a portrait circa 1996 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Davis/Getty Images)
Actor Michael J. Fox and actress Tracy Pollan attend the 23rd Annual People's Choice Awards on January 12, 1997 at The Barker Hangar, Santa Monica Air Center in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actor Michael J. Fox and actress Tracy Pollan attend the 49th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 14, 1997 at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actor Michael J. Fox and actress Tracy Pollan attend the 55th Annual Golden Globe Awards on January 18, 1998 at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actress Tracy Pollan and actor Michael J. Fox attend the 'Anthem' New York City Premiere on May 5, 1998 at City Center in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actor Michael J. Fox, actress Tracy Pollan and son Sam Fox attend the 51st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 12, 1999 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Tracy Pollan and Michael J Fox at GQ Man of the Year awards, New York, October 21, 1999. (Photo by Steve Eichner/Getty Images)
Actress Tracy Pollan and actor Michael J. Fox attend the Fifth Annual GQ Men of the Year Awards on October 26, 2000 at Beacon Theater in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Actor Michael J. Fox and actress Tracy Pollan attend the 52nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 10, 2000 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Tracy Pollan and Michael J. Fox during Mark Seliger celebrates his book 'Lenny Kravitz' published by Arena Editions with proceeds of the book going to UFA Widow and Children Fund. at Kennedy Boesky Gallery in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Michael J. Fox, son and Tracy Pollan during 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's...' - A Benefit Evening for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research - 2002 at Manhattan Pavillion in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Carmen Valdes/WireImage)
Michael J. Fox, wife Tracy & daughters at the Mann Village Theatre in Westwood, California (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
Michael J. Fox, Tracy Pollan during Michael J. Fox Parkinson Foundation at Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, New York, United States. (Photo by M. Von Holden/FilmMagic)
Michael J. Fox, Tracy Pollan during Michael J. Fox Parkinson Foundation at Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, New York, United States. (Photo by M. Von Holden/FilmMagic)
Sam Fox, Tracy Pollan, Michael J. Fox during Benefit evening for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research at Waldorf Astoria in New York, New York, United States. (Photo by Sylvain Gaboury/FilmMagic)
Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan during 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's' Benefit for The Michael J. Fox Foundation at The Waldorf Astoria Grand Ballroom in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Djamilla Rosa Cochran/WireImage)
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 9: Tracy Pollan and Michael J. Fox attend The New York City Ballet and The School of American Ballet presentation of The Nutcracker Family Benefit on December 9, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - DECEMBER 15: Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan attend DONNY DEUTSCH'S Birthday Celebration at Jazz on December 15, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by PATRICK MCMULLAN/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Actor Michael J. Fox, and wife, actress Tracy Pollan attend 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's' benefit for the Michael J. Fox Foundation at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers on November 5, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 21: Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan attend The MICHAEL J. FOX FOUNDATION'S 2009 Benefit 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's' at The Waldorf=Astoria on November 21, 2009 in New York. (Photo by - AMBER DE VOS/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 12: 71st ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: (l-r) Actors Tracy Pollan and Michael J. Fox attend Universal, NBC, Focus Features, E! Sponsored by Chrysler Viewing and After Party with Gold Meets Golden held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 12, 2014 -- (Photo by Trae Patton/NBC/NBC via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 12: Tracy Pollan and Michael J. Fox attend the 2011 Dubin Breast Center benefit at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on December 12, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 10: Actors Tracy Pollan (L) and Michael J. Fox attend the 2012 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson's at The Waldorf=Astoria on November 10, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Stewart/FilmMagic)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 08: Tracy Pollan and Michael J. Fox attend the Oakland Raiders vs New York Jets game at MetLife Stadium on December 8, 2013 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 22: Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan attend '2014 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson's' event at The Waldorf=Astoria on November 22, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 18: Tracy Pollan (L) and Michael J Fox attend the Global Green USA 2015 Benefit The Future Of Food at The Glasshouses on November 18, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Global Green USA)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: Actors Tracy Pollan and Michael J. Fox attends the 2016 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson's at The Waldorf=Astoria on November 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Tracy Pollan and Michael J. Fox attend The Museum of Modern Art Film Benefit presented by CHANEL: A Tribute to Julianne Moore at MOMA on November 13, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Museum Of Modern Art)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 11: Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan attends the 2017 a funny thing happened on the way to cure Parkinson's benefitting The Michael J. Fox Foundation at the Hilton New York on November 11, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 10: Actors Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan attend A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's 2018 at the Hilton New York on November 10, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
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“I started getting it. That’s when I started to accept the disease — and acceptance doesn’t mean resignation. It means understanding and dealing straightforwardly. When I did Spin City, I started to do that,” he said of the hit series, which ran from 1996 to 2001. Fox shared that one of the reasons he left the show was due to the physical toll Parkinson’s began to take on his body.

“I felt my face hardening. My movements were constricted. If you watch episodes from the last couple of seasons, you’ll see I would anchor myself against a desk or the wall,” he recalled. “Eventually it was too burdensome. So I left. After a couple of years I was asked to do Scrubs. I don’t think I was very good in it, but I enjoyed being back on set. Then I did Boston Legal — I remember the smell of the arclight while we shot. Something about that smell made me think, ‘Acting is what I do.’ And I needed to find a way to do it with my new instrument. Ultimately I found that the ‘less is more’ philosophy works for me. Which is convenient because I have less. More is more — I’d be out of business.”

Although Fox is still acting, his passion lies in the foundation he started to combat Parkinson’s disease, which has raised $800 million.

“I still believe in a cure. For so long Sinemet L-dopa [a medication used to treat Parkinson’s symptoms] was the gold standard,” he noted. “That was all we had, and it gave relief but it only lasted a certain amount of time and led to dyskinesias and other side-effects. So it was important to find better treatments.”

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Vermont Farm Previously Owned by Michael J. Fox
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Vermont Farm Previously Owned by Michael J. Fox
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He continued, “There’s a new drug that’s been approved that’s like a rescue inhaler for when you freeze. Because freezing is a very real thing for Parkinson’s patients. I could be sitting here with my foot on fire and a glass of water over there on the table and all I’d be able to do is think about how good it would feel to pour that water on my foot. Treatments for that can make a huge difference in people’s lives. Now, if we can prophylactically keep Parkinson’s symptoms from developing in a person, is that a cure? No. Would I take it? Yes.”

Fox was asked if the Trump administration’s skepticism toward science has affected his foundation’s research. “We have a working relationship with the government. Trump is not sitting around thinking about Parkinson’s. But one thing that angered me is when he mocked that reporter,” he replied.

At a 2015 campaign rally in South Carolina, Trump appeared to mockNew York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski who has the joint condition arthogryposis.

“That was a stab to the guts. Not just for me, but for people I know and work with, who try so hard to overcome other people’s atavistic aversion to anybody that moves differently,” Fox recalled. “So I thought, Do I say something in response? Then I thought, People already know Trump is an [expletive].”

Fox is currently working on a new book, which was inspired by last year’s scare. “My health issues last year brought me to places where I started to say, ‘Was it false hope I’d been selling? Is there a line beyond which there is no consolation?’ For me to get to that place is pretty dark,” he admitted.

He continued, “I realized that the understanding I’d reached with Parkinson’s was sincere but risked being glib. I’d made peace with the disease but presumed others had that same relationship when they didn’t. Then when I started to deal with the effects from the spinal surgery, I realized: Wow, it can get a lot worse. Being in a position where I couldn’t walk and had health aides 24 hours a day, was I still prepared to say, ‘Hey, chin up!’ Parkinson’s, it’s a strange test.”

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