Sunday, May 29, 2011

Michael J. Fox: Canadian or American?

At 5'4", Michael J. Fox could be typecast as suffering from "little man"syndrome. Regardless, in recent years the world, and especially we, the people with Parkinson's, have bid up his stock considerably. Now, despite his height, he is proving himself a giant of a man who has handled affliction, notoriety and some political mudslinging with determination, humor and equanimity. My favorite Michael J. Fox quote is about what PD does to him.

“On a deeper level, it gives you a real humility, because you have to deal every day with the fact that you compromise, to a certain extent - so then you explore what that compromise is and 'how am I compromised?' And for everything I can't do, I find that there's another ability that's been developed or another avenue that I've gone down."

It is hard for us to imagine having to explain Parkinson's disease to friends or strangers today without having the ability to refer to MJF. I would dare say that, for many, Fox is not just the "poster boy for Parkinson's" but holds the hopes of health and even healing for many in his hands.
Last Friday Michael, the "lapsed Canadian", received the highest civil honor in the country as he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. Of course, this garnered some controversy given that some time ago he took on American citizenship (supposedly to the exclusion of his Canadian birthright). I, for one, am proud of the fact that Michael is Canadian (whoever else may have adopted him). He has not really renounced his Canadian country of origin and upbringing, but rather embraced his country of longtime residence. Who could fault him for that? He is, in my books, a true dual citizen who should not be compelled to choose love for one country over another when there is no need nor benefit to do so. One may love both without being a bigamist. Fox was born in Edmonton, Alberta, and grew up in Chilliwack and Burnaby, British Columbia, as well as North Bay, Ontario. "Being Canadian is intrinsic to who I am," Fox said. Let us leave it at that shall we?
So Canada is celebrating Fox for who he is, not a humorous actor so much as a humanitarian activist. Rather than just recognizing his superb acting abilities, the Order of Canada medal is a reflection of his service to humanity everywhere, millions of whom are living with Parkinson's disease and hoping for a cure. The Michael J. Fox Foundation is the largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson's research in the world. In fact, yesterday his Foundation announced a $50 million matching grant, "...made possible by a leadership gift of $50 million from Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki". Of course Brin, as cofounder of Google, can afford this generous gift given that he has an estimated personal net worth of 20 billion bucks, but the fact is, he gave $50 million of it to Michael and no one else.

There have been some suggestions that Fox and his Foundation fund only American-based research. This may be generally true, I am not sure, but can anybody blame him for spending the money in the country where he raised it? There are criticisms that he has gone too fast, been reckless and made mistakes. Better that than going too slow if we are to find the keys that unlock the mystery of PD. Some say that MJF is simply grandstanding, using his disease for his own personal purposes and profile. But in all of this, surely it is the goal and not who gets the glory that matters. And in that context there is no evidence to suggest that Michael J. Fox is designing his own "get well soon" project. Certainly, his interest and motivation for the work of the Foundation is grounded in his personal experience. However, recently he was quoted as saying, “I think self-interest is a great starting point, but I don’t want it to cloud my thinking, and I don’t want the foundation to ever do anything with me in mind. This is a responsibility we have now. I want people with Parkinson’s to wake up knowing that there is someone trying to get this done. We want to be accountable to ourselves. I have this image of bursting a door open and watching people go through it. And then, at some point, putting my own coat on and walking through the door.”
Seriously, Michael J. Fox may simply be a Hollywood personality with Parkinson's, but he has proven what one vertically challenged man can do. He and his Foundation have kidnapped a lazy and lethargic area of research and energized it with urgency. He is deserving of an award. I am glad it is as a Canadian.


  1. Hi there! Your Blog is very inspiring. Godbless You and your Family.

  2. I am glad to hear that Michael was honored with this award considering all his has done to raise awareness of PD and the efforts he has made through his foundation to find the cure. I have been battling PD for almost 2 years and consider Michael and the manner in which he has dealt with this dreaded disease to be a source of inspiration.