Illustration: Sean McCabe (Universal/Everett Collection; Brian Zak/AP Photo; Columbia/Everett Collection; MGM/Everett Collection)
The Big 5-Oh: June 9
Michael J. Fox first breezed into America's living rooms on the 1980s hit sitcom Family Ties, in which he played Alex P. Keaton, a buttoned-down high schooler and stridently conservative Republican whose political views contrasted comically with those of his liberal hippie parents. The show premiered in 1982, and Alex Keaton, a role which won Fox three Emmy Awards as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, became one of the iconic TV characters of Reagan-era America. Family Ties ran for eight seasons, fittingly ending its run as the decade closed in 1989.
It was Fox's role as time-traveling teen Marty McFly in Back to the Future that catapulted the actor from sitcom king to Hollywood superstar. Released in the summer of 1985, Back to the Future was a critical hit and a bona fide blockbuster, becoming the year's highest-grossing film and spawning two successful sequels. The movie's appeal endures as well — last year we named it to our list of the 10 best summer movies ever.
Much more film and TV success has followed, but these days Fox is also known for his work to raise awareness of Parkinson's disease, a condition he was diagnosed with in the early 1990s. For a time, he kept his Parkinson's diagnosis private, but since going public with his illness in 1998, he has been a tireless advocate for increased awareness and fundraising. In 2006, AARP The Magazine honored Fox with an Inspire Award for his work as a Parkinson's advocate. The Michael J. Fox Foundation is now the world's largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson's research.
"We could be a year away" from a breakthrough in Parkinson's treatment, he said at a recent ceremony during which he was invested as an Officer in the Order of Canada, his native country's highest civilian honor. "We could be 10 years away; we could be 20 years away. But if you ever wake up in the morning and wonder who's pursuing this, we are. And we're pursuing it hard, and with complete dedication and with purity of motive."
Since 1988, Fox has been married to actress Tracy Pollan — whom he met when she played his girlfriend on Family Ties — and the couple has four children. Recently, Fox has appeared in a recurring role as a conniving attorney on the hit CBS drama The Good Wife. And — as if the guy who played Alex Keaton and Marty McFly needed to remind us of his comedic chops — he's set to appear this summer on the HBO comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm.
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