When We Talks

bitchy | Michael J. Fox on his health setbacks: ‘I broke my cheek, hand, shoulder elbow’


A couple of weeks ago, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Llyod blew up Twitter with an emotional reunion at the New York Comic Con. In the clip, Michael was walked on stage and by an assistant. When Christopher came out a moment later, Michael struggled to get up to embrace him. I assumed it was his Parkinson’s disease. But in his profile in People this week, I learned his mobility issues were due to his Parkinson’s, but not in the way I thought. Michael’s been recovering from injuries resulted from his disease, including breaking multiple bones. Fortunately, after a particularly difficult couple of years, Michael is on the mend and feeling better than he has in a while.

Michael J. Fox, famed for his optimism and tireless activism around Parkinson’s disease, is in a playful mood on a recent day in New York. “I’m rocking and rolling,” says the star, who just finished playing air guitar during a shoot for PEOPLE’s Kindness cover, on stands now.

Following a tough year of breaks and recovery, there’s a mischievous glint in Fox’s eye. The beloved star — who has helped raise more than a billion and a half dollars for Parkinson’s research through his foundation since his 1991 diagnosis with the disease — will soon receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, an honorary Oscar recognizing outstanding philanthropic efforts, at the Governors Awards on Nov. 19. But in the background, he has been quietly navigating another challenging chapter. His mother, Phyllis, died in September at the age of 92, and the past year has brought with it a cascade of frustrating new injuries.

The star has weathered difficult periods before. In a memoir two years ago, he chronicled what he called the worst year of his life, a period beginning in 2018 in which a risky spinal-cord surgery to remove a tumor was followed by a painful left-arm break. It ended with his recovery and an African safari with his wife, actress Tracy Pollan, and their four children: son Sam, 33; twin daughters Aquinnah and Schuyler, 27, and youngest daughter Esmé, 21.

But the past year brought new hurdles. “It got worse,” Fox says matter-of-factly. “I broke my cheek, then my hand, then my shoulder, had a replacement shoulder put in and broke my [right] arm, then I broke my elbow. I’m 61 years old, and I’m feeling it a little bit more.”

While Parkinson’s affects Fox’s movement, those around him say the injuries don’t necessarily mean his disease is progressing any faster. He got an infection after surgery for his broken hand, and temporarily not being able to use the hand led to balance issues and falls. He admits the painful incidents put a dent in his sunny outlook. “I was never really a cranky guy, but I got very cranky and short with people,” he says. “I try to nip it in the bud. I always think of these aides who work with me. And I often say to them, ‘Whatever I say, just imagine I said “please” at the beginning and “thank you” at the end. Just take a second and absorb that I might have said that if I was more myself, but I didn’t, so I apologize.’ ”

His recovery has provided an emotional lift. “Just now,” he says, “I’m coming through where the last of my injuries are healing up; my arm is feeling good. Life is interesting. It deals you these things.” Now, he says, “the whole mission is: Don’t fall down. So whatever works to not fall down, whether it’s a walker or a wheelchair, a cane, a guy with a belt around my waist holding onto it — I use all those tools.”

He’s been relying on them less as his strength comes back; weeks ago fans saw Fox walk unassisted across a New York stage for an emotional mini-reunion with his Back to the Future costar Christopher Lloyd. “I’m just getting to where I’m walking steadily again,” Fox says. “I think it’s cool to walk by myself. It is. It’s fantastic.”

[From People]

We talk a lot about exposure and normalizing conversations around topics. This is a great example why that’s so important. While I knew Parkinson’s affected mobility, I never made the (logical) connection of how it led to breaking bones and other injuries. And when I saw that clip of Michael and Christopher, it made me sad. I felt bad for Michael and now I find out he was feeling great about being able to walk unassisted. Next time I’ll know not to read into the situation. We often hear people with disabilities ask us not to feel sorry for them and I need to be better about listening to that.

I love that Michael is still so optimistic yet letting us know that’s he’s also had his moments. I just appreciate everything he’s doing, from raising over a billion dollars for research to public education to his raw honesty about the disease.

Photo credit: People, Instagram and Cover Images


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