One of the most familiar faces of the 1980s would undoubtedly be Michael J. Fox. This young Canadian talent took Hollywood by storm on both the cinematic front and the television front. Between his starring role on Family Ties and films such as the Back to the Future trilogy, Fox was a hit. Personal tragedy would cause him to back away from the limelight, but he never fully left the entertainment industry. If you’ve ever wanted to learn a bit more about this multitalented actor, we suggest you scroll down!
Michael J. Fox Facts
1. Well, That was Unexpected
You might be wondering what the “J” stands for in Fox’s name. However, you’ll be surprised to know that it stands for “Andrew!” Fox added the “J” initial to his full name as an homage to Oscar-nominated character actor Michael J. Pollard. We don’t doubt that Pollard was honored by that when he found out!
Another reason why Fox changed his middle initial to a “J” was that he was paranoid about what the teen magazines would have looked like when they had to type “Michael A. Fox.” Really, the jokes just write themselves, there!
3. Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You
When Fox was first considered for the role of Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties, he didn’t actually have a landline in his home—ask your parents what a landline is if you don’t know. Fox was forced to go to a Hollywood payphone and wait in the booth between 4 and 5, which was when Fox had told the producers he’d be able to talk. Luckily, they called him back, and he was able to get the role which would help define his career!
4. A Star is Born
Fox was born on June 9, 1961 in Edmonton, Canada. His mother, Phyllis, worked as a payroll clerk and actress, while his father, William, served with the Canadian Forces as well as worked with the police.
5. Small Screen Debut
Fox’s first performance onscreen occurred when he was just 12 years old. He appeared in an episode of the long-running Canadian series The Beachcombers.
6. A Beautiful Friendship
One of the most lasting things to emerge from Fox’s participation in the Back to the Future franchise was his friendship with his co-star Christopher Lloyd. Not only did they act in all three of the Back to the Future films, Lloyd later appeared alongside Fox in Spin City and The Michael Fox Show.
7. Cross Country
Before Fox’s father retired from the Canadian forces in 1971, Fox lived in various towns and cities across Canada.
8. Stiff Competition!
Fox wasn’t the original choice to play Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties. He was only offered the role after the first choice refused to commit to a long-term television deal. In case you’re curious, that first choice was none other than Matthew Broderick, fresh off his hit film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!
One of the most recurring trends in Fox’s early career was his tendency to play teenagers despite arguably being too old for those roles. He was 23 years old when he played the 17-year-old Marty McFly in Back to the Future, he was around 21 years old when he first played the high-school student Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties and was 19 when he played his 15-year-old character in Midnight Madness.
10. What Did a Fence Ever Do to You?
Another, lesser, recurring theme amongst Fox’s characters is their knack for driving cars into fences. Marty McFly famously does so in Back to the Future, but Fox’s characters also do the same thing in Doc Hollywood and The Frighteners.
11. Big Screen Debut
Fox’s first feature film appearance occurred in 1980. In case anyone is curious, the film is the high-school comedy Midnight Madness.
12. A Romance for the Ages
On Family Ties, Fox’s character had a girlfriend named Ellen, who was played by Tracy Pollan. In 1988, the two of them would marry in real life. As of May 2019, they have four children together and are still married.
13. Lesson Learned
Before Fox finished high school, he dropped out of his senior year instead. While there isn’t a single person who would say that Fox’s life has been badly ruined by this decision, Fox himself continues to regret his choice to drop out before graduating. He’s admitted that he forbade his own children from doing the same thing.
14. Awards Season
As of May 2019, Fox has been nominated for ten Golden Globe awards for acting in film and television. Of those awards, he won four of them. In case you’re curious, one of those awards was for Family Ties while three of them were for Spin City.
15. All’s Well That Ends Well!
Although he was the original choice to star in Back to the Future, Fox was initially unavailable due to his having to take extra work on the TV series Family Ties (one of his co-stars was taking time off due to pregnancy). The role of Marty McFly was instead given to actor Eric Stoltz, but it was clear after six weeks of filming that he wasn’t the person for the job. Luckily, by that point, Fox managed to work out a schedule where he could be in Back to the Future as well as Family Ties simultaneously.
16. That’s Not True!
Contrary to what people continue to believe about Back to the Future, Fox didn’t have to learn how to skateboard to play the role of Marty McFly. Fox was an accomplished skateboarder since his high school years—though he did have a stuntman for some of the skateboarding scenes during the production.
17. Welcome to the Show!
Some of you might remember that before Trevor Noah made The Daily Show his own, the long-time host of The Daily Show had been American comedian Jon Stewart. Fox holds the interesting honor of being the very first episode featuring Stewart as the new host!
18. When I was a Scrounger
Before he’d gotten his breakout role on Family Ties, Fox was a struggling actor like all the rest. Fox was so strapped for cash during that time period, he sold part of his sectional couch to a neighbor, as well as paperback books to local bookstores.
19. The Elusive Michael
In 1996, Fox was one of a large cast of actors who appeared in Tim Burton’s sci-fi comedy Mars Attacks! As of May 2019, this was the last feature film in which Fox ever physically appeared. While he certainly provided voicework in subsequent theatrically released films, he has yet to return in front of the camera.
20. Robin McFly?
Speaking of their collaboration on Mars Attacks!, Fox very nearly had the chance to work with director Tim Burton back in 1989. When the film Batman was being developed, the people behind the production considered introducing the character Robin in that film. Fox was allegedly the first choice to play him before the filmmakers scrapped the idea of Robin being in the film. Batman fans can no doubt debate the sense or senselessness of that decision in the comments below!
21. I’m Not Doing This Anymore
We should point out that there is another contender for Fox’s final onscreen appearance in a feature film. The same year as Mars Attacks! was released, a then-unknown Peter Jackson released his supernatural film The Frighteners, starring Fox. Allegedly, Fox was in New Zealand filming his role when he decided he was tired of filming far away from his family. His subsequent career was based closer to home in New York City, where Spin City was located for the first four seasons of the series.
22. Make the Movie Before He Gets Too Old!
Movies are sometimes made about former movie stars, and the discussions sometimes begin when said stars are still clinging to life. Before his death in 1986, Hollywood star James Cagney famously picked Fox as the best person to play him in a biopic if one was ever made. Sadly, for Cagney, no such biopic has yet to be made as of May 2019.
Sadly, Fox did not sing “Johnny B. Goode” during the first Back to the Future film. His singing voice was provided by Mark Campbell, who would also provide work on the soundtracks of Finding Graceland and 102 Dalmatians.
24. Screw You, Sean!
One of Fox’s rare dramatic performances can be found in the highly acclaimed Vietnam War film Casualties of War. One of Fox’s co-stars was Sean Penn, who plays a character antagonistic to Fox’s character in the story. Behind the scenes, Penn went to great lengths to get stronger and more emotional reactions out of Fox. One strategy Penn used was to verbally insult Fox by dismissing him as a glorified TV actor (this was back before television got the respect that it has nowadays).
25. Terrible News
In 1991, Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease after he started showing symptoms on the set of Doc Hollywood. Fox initially drank heavily in response to this news (as no doubt many of us would), but after coming to terms with the diagnosis, he pressed on with his career. He wouldn’t publicly announce his diagnosis until 1998.
Aside from acting, Fox is also an established producer. Fox’s producing credits began with the dark comedy film Coldblooded in the mid-1990s. Since then, Fox was an executive producer for both Spin City and The Michael Fox Show.
27. Affecting Work
Due to the effects of Parkinson’s disease on Fox, he would often hide his left hand from sight while shooting scenes on the series Spin City. He ultimately left the series in 2000 because of his struggles with the disease.
28. It was an Eventful Year
Over the course of a year, Fox filmed the second and third films of the Back to the Future series. During that same length of time, Fox lost his father but also became a father himself with the birth of his son, Sam.
29. Boy, That’s Getting Old
Given that Fox ended up marrying the woman who played his girlfriend on Family Ties, it stands to reason that some people would see that as fodder for a joke or two. According to Fox himself, he and his wife were haunted by the song “At This Moment” by Billy Vera and The Beaters, since it had been tied to their romance on Family Ties. For ten years after their wedding, the couple couldn’t get onto a dance floor without someone playing that song as an inside joke.
30. What a Surprise!
According to Fox, he found out that there was going to be a sequel to Back to the Future the same way everyone else did. He was watching the film in the cinema for the first time and was astonished to see the words “To be continued” at the end of the film. A hasty phone call to his agent soon after that confirmed that he’d be involved in the following film.
31. Did You Make an Offer They Couldn’t Refuse?
Incredibly, as Fox has himself admitted, part of his time living in the US was not technically permitted. However, he was too scared to go back to Canada, as he feared it might mean he couldn’t come back to the States. Eventually, as Fox explained, he needed to hire immigration lawyers to “straighten it all out.” Honestly, if it was anyone except Fox saying that, we’d be giving them some serious side-eye!
32. No Way!
It’s safe to say that Fox’s Teen Wolf has had a significant fanbase ever since it was first released. However, one person who hates the movie is none other than Fox himself! Even at the time, he lamented being involved with the film, and later refused to return for a sequel.
33. Well Done, Marty! Er, I Mean Michael!
In recognition of Fox’s tireless work advocating for better understanding and treatment of Parkinson’s disease, he was given an honorary doctorate from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. In case that name seems familiar, this is the same institute which awards the Nobel Prize in the medicine category!
34. That’s Me!
While we pointed out that Fox hasn’t acted in a feature film since 1996, we should note that there is an exception to our prior statement. In 2014, he made a cameo as himself in the film Annie, a remake of the classic musical.
35. A Star for a Star
Anyone looking for Fox’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame should go to 7021 Hollywood Blvd. His star was inducted on December 16, 2002.
36. It’s Nice to Laugh About It Now
When Fox was interviewed by David Letterman in 2011, he recalled the moment when he approached one of his high school teachers to admit that he was dropping out. According to Fox, the disappointed teacher warned him “Fox, you’re not going to be cute forever.” Fox allegedly responded, “Maybe just long enough, sir.” Fox concluded his anecdote with the rueful thought, “it turns out we were both right.”
37. One of Our Own
Despite his work being primarily in the United States, Fox has never left his Canadian roots behind. Not only does he continue to hold dual American and Canadian citizenship, Fox also participated in the closing ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
38. One of Us!
For all his most famous work occurring south of the border, Canada has long honored Fox as an accomplished citizen. In 2000, Fox received a place on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto. 10 years after that, Fox was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.
39. Enjoy Eating Crow!
One person who stood in the way of Fox being in Family Ties was Brandon Tartikoff, one of the show’s producers. Tartikoff was very critical of Fox’s short height, insisting further that Fox’s face was “not the kind of face you’ll ever find on a lunch-box.” When the show’s success proved Tartikoff wrong, Fox gifted the producer with a custom-made lunchbox with a personal message inscribed on it. It read “To Brandon, this is for you to put your crow in. Love and kisses, Michael J. Fox.” To Tartikoff’s credit, he reportedly kept the lunchbox in his office for the rest of his time with NBC.
40. Was This a Coincidence?
One of the first roles that Fox ever had in his life was the CBC series Leo and Me. What makes this show controversial is the fact that Fox was one of several cast and crew members who developed Parkinson’s later in their lives. An investigation was actually launched to see if there was a common cause behind these cases.
41. Marty! Is That You?!
Fox’s role in the Back to the Future franchise has become embedded in the conscience of people on a literal global scale. In case you think we’re exaggerating, Fox himself told an anecdote where he was visiting the Asian country of Bhutan. While he was visiting this nation located in the Himalayas, Fox passed a group of Buddhist monks. One of them turned to look at Fox and called him by his character name from the Back to the Future franchise!
42. Fighting the Good Fight
Fox has tirelessly worked to raise awareness of Parkinson’s disease, as well as raising funds to help research treatment and a cure for this sickness. He has written multiple books on his own experiences with Parkinson’s and he set up an organization in his name which has raised millions of dollars for his cause. Because of his actions and activism, Fox was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 people “whose power, talent, or moral example is transforming the world” in 2007.