Michael J. Fox Coped With Parkinson's Diagnosis by "Drinking Heavily" Every Day
Michael J. Fox is proof that there's life -- and, beyond that, happiness and success -- after Parkinson's disease. But as he revealed in an interview with Howard Stern on Wednesday, Sept. 25, there was a time after his diagnosis when he felt like giving up. Asked about his decision to quit show business once he found out he had Parkinson's in 1991, Fox confessed that he didn't know how to deal back then.
"It just felt helpless," he told Stern. "It felt unfair in a way...it's hard to explain."
The actor -- who's returning to television on NBC's The Michael J. Fox Show this fall -- then admitted he turned to alcohol to help him cope. "My first reaction to it," he said, "was to start drinking heavily."
He continued: "I used to drink to party, but then I was drinking alone...Every day."
This "self-medicating" went on for several months, he told Stern. "It was about a year of a knife fight in a closet, where I just didn't have my tools to deal with it," Fox said. "But then after that I went to therapy, and it all started to get really clear to me."
Going to therapy, he explained, helped him to see that Parkinson's wasn't a death sentence. And things fell into place from there. "My marriage got great," he said, referring to wife Tracy Pollan, whom he wed in 1988. "And my career started to [take off again]."
In fact, Fox told Rolling Stone recently that Parkinson's made him a better actor. "That hesitation, that Parkinsonian affect, is an opportunity to just pause in a moment and collect as a character and respond to what’s happening and just gave me this kind of gravitas," he said. "It really gave me a new view of things."
He added: "I used to be really nervous, and sit in my dressing room and fret about a scene that was coming up and sweat it out and say, 'What am I going to do? You say action and I have to do something. What am I going to do? And what's that actor going to do? And how do I respond to that?' And now it's just like 'Okay, what's happening?' And if something happens, I react to it, and if nothing happens, I don't react. I don't worry about that bit I was going to do or the look I was gonna give because when I get there I may not be able to give that look or do that thing or move that glass."