In a new documentary,opens up about Parkinson’s disease and how he used alcohol to cope with his diagnosis.
“Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie,” which premiered Friday at, traces the life and career of the beloved star, who was diagnosed with the degenerative brain disorder in 1991. But the actor, now 61, hid his health struggles from the public for the next seven years as he grappled privately with denial and depression.
Shooting film and TV projects during that time, Fox says he popped dopamine pills “like Halloween Smarties (candy)” to help stave off early symptoms of the disease. On the set, he also made a point to always hold props in order to hide his tremors.
“Therapeutic value, comfort – none of these were the reason I took these pills. There was only one reason: to hide,” Fox says in the documentary. “I became a virtuoso of manipulating drug intake so that I’d peak at exactly the right time and place.”
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He was filled with dread about his prognosis, after doctors told him there was no way to win the fight against Parkinson’s. So he turned to drinking to forget.
“I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know what was coming. So what if I could just have four glasses of wine and maybe a shot?” Fox says. “I was definitely an alcoholic. But I’ve gone 30 years without having a drink.”
Fox credits his wife, actress Tracy Pollan, and four kids for helping inspire him to get sober. But his first few years without alcohol were a challenge.
“As low as alcohol had brought me, abstinence would bring me lower. I could no longer escape myself,” Fox recalls. So he tried to work and travel as much as possible in the early years of his diagnosis: “You can’t pretend at home that you don’t have Parkinson’s because you’re just there with it. If I’m out in the world, I’m dealing with other people and they don’t know I have it.”
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Fox eventually came forward about his Parkinson’s in 1998. He speaks frankly in the film about his ongoing fears and frustrations around the disease.
“To me, the worst thing is restraint,” Fox says. “The worst thing is to be confined and to not be able to have a way out.” In the early days, “there are times when I went, ‘There’s no way out of this.’ ”
The documentary is directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (2006’s “An Inconvenient Truth”), who accompanies Fox to doctor’s visits and asks the actor about his day to day living with Parkinson’s.
“I’m in intense pain,” Fox says at one point. As a result of the disease, he frequently falls while walking, and gets injured multiple times while shooting the documentary.
“People around me are going, ‘Be careful, be careful,’ ” Fox says. “And I’m like, ‘This has nothing to do with being careful. This happens.’ “
But the movie ends on a hopeful note, showing how he started the Michael J. Fox Foundation in 2000 and continues to advocate for Parkinson’s research.
“Some people would view the news of my disease as an ending,” Fox says. “But I was starting to sense it was really a beginning.”
“Still” will be released by Apple TV+ later this year. Sundance Film Festival continues in Park City, Utah, through Jan. 29.