As he emerges from a particularly rough year, during which he had to re-learn how to walk, Michael J. Fox has maintained his signature optimism — but he's the first to admit that it doesn't always come easily.
A series of falls led to major spinal surgery, and after he finally got back on his feet, another bad fall shattered his humerus ("A broken humerus is no joke — think about it," he cracked). The low moments were difficult to push through, he said Tuesday during Tribeca Film Festival's Storytellers series.
"I feel sometimes I don't want to be selling people the optimism thing because people have tough lives. Depression is real, and things happen to them that I can't even comprehend. They make my stuff seem like Band-Aids and skinned knees," said Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1991 at age 29. "So I don't want to be saying, 'Cheer up!' Some stuff sucks."
The traumatic injury in August 2018 briefly broke his spirit, he said. "I'm known as a guy who makes lemonade out of lemons, but I was out of the lemonade business: 'I can't do this anymore, I can't,'" Fox recalled. "But then I realized that I have to take every step one at a time now, and that slows life down. You have more time that way. Every step is a new adventure. I could fall down, not fall down, I could go off this way, go backwards — who knows?"
Michael J Fox and Tracy Pollan
Michael J Fox and Tracy Pollan
Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
FAMILY TIES -- 'The Real Thing: Pt.1' Episode -- Pictured: (l-r) Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton, Tracy Pollan as Ellen Reed (Photo by Gene Arias/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Married actors Tracy Pollan and Michael J. Fox. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Circa 1986, Promotional portrait of actors Michael J Fox and Tracy Pollan on the set of the television series, 'Family Ties'. Fox and Pollan were married in 1988. (Photo by Universal Studios/Getty Images)
Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan during 40th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - August 8, 1988 at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/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)
Fox's mother, Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Tracy Pollan and Michael J. Fox (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 07: Actress Tracy Pollan, husband Michael J. Fox, director Martin Scorsese and his wife, Helen Morris (l. to r.), get together at 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's...,' an evening of comedy at the Metropolitan Pavilion. The event raised money for Fox's Foundation for Parkinson's Research. (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 12: 71st ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: Actor Michael J. Fox (R) and Tracy Pollan arrive to the 71st Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 12, 2014 -- (Photo by Christopher Polk/NBC/NBC via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 19: Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan attend 3rd Annual Mario Batali Foundation Benefit Dinner at Del Posto Ristorante on October 19, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA- SEPTEMBER 22: Actor Michael J. Fox (L) and wife Tracy Pollan arrive at the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on September 22, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.(Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
THE MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW -- 'Neighbor' Episode 102 -- Pictured: (l-r) Michael J. Fox as Mike Henry, Tracy Pollan as Tracy -- (Photo by: Eric Liebowitz/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 16: Actor Michael J. Fox (R) and his wife Tracy Pollan attend Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs between the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on May 16, 2013 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 07: Michael J. Fox and wife Tracy Pollan flank their son, Sam, at 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's...,' an evening of comedy at the Metropolitan Pavilion. The event raised money for Fox's Foundation for Parkinson's Research. (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured (l-r): Tracy Pollan and Michael J. Fox -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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Actor Denis Leary, who joined Fox onstage for the hourlong conversation, pointed out that even in Fox's hesitation to promote positivity, "Your optimism, it's not bulls--t."
"It works for me," Fox agreed.
And while he's now gotten accustomed to his new pace, Fox said he notices it most when he's at home with his family. The actor shares four children, three daughters and a son, with wife Tracy Pollan. He'll sometimes hear them chatting and laughing down the hall, and by the time he gets there, the conversation is already over. After he lamented to one of his daughters, she diagnosed him with a brand-new, but a much more common, issue: FOMO, or "fear of missing out."
Fox also confirmed that he's working on a new book. You can shop his best-selling previous memoirs below.