Michael J. Fox on Fighting Parkinson’s Disease With Muhammad Ali: We Were ‘Part of Something Bigger’

They shared something special. Three days after Muhammad Ali’s death, Michael J. Fox is paying tribute to his late friend by remembering their side-by-side battle with Parkinson’s disease. In a new interview on the Today show, the 54-year-old actor recalled his time with the legendary boxer, who died on Friday, June 3, at age 74.

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“Before I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I admired him and I admired his athleticism, his poise, his class, his style, his stoicism, his belief in what he thought was right,” Fox said on Monday, June 6. “[But] to have actually met him and joined with him in a common cause, in a common fight was … I mean, who else would you want in your corner?”

Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox
Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox at a Senate health and labor subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., in 2001.

Ali was diagnosed with the neurological disorder in 1984, three years after his retirement. In the following years, his motor and speech skills started to decline. Fox was diagnosed with the same condition in 1991, but didn’t go public with it until 1998.

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“[Ali] was quiet for a while,” the Back to the Future star recounted of a phone call that he once got from the boxing champ. “And then he said in a very soft voice, ‘I’m glad you’re in this fight with me.’ It was just a formative moment in my life. I realized that we were all part of something bigger.”

Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali
Tracy Pollan, Michael J. Fox, Muhammad Ali and Lonnie Ali (from left) at the ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson’s’ 2006 benefit for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Since then, Fox has become an advocate for Parkinson’s disease research and awareness. In October 2000, he started the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. The organization has since become the largest nonprofit source of funding for Parkinson’s disease research in the world, according to its website.

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As previously reported, Ali died surrounded by family and friends at a hospital in Phoenix on Friday night. He was hospitalized earlier in the week for respiratory complications. The cause of death was later revealed to be septic shock due to unspecified natural causes.

The pro boxer’s funeral will be held on Friday, June 10, in his hometown of Louisville. Former President Bill Clinton, comedian Billy Crystal and journalist Bryant Gumbel are set to deliver eulogies at the service, which will be open to the public.

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