Why did Michael J. Fox develop Parkinson's disease?
- Created on Saturday, 12 July 2014 03:04
I just finished reading the autobiography of Michael J. Fox entitled Lucky Man. The theme of the book is that even though he came down with Parkinson's disease at the age of 30, he considers himself a lucky man because of how he dealt with it and found meaning and purpose in his life.
First, I always thought he was a very talented actor. If you've never seen Back to the Future, it is a very fun movie, and it all revolves around him. And although he has done a lot of comedy, he is presently playing a cutthroat corporate lawyer on The Good Wife, and he is really carrying the role. In it, his character has tardive dyskinesia which are involuntary movements, and I assume it is his Parkinson's disease and the effect of all the medications he has had to take.
He came from a working class family in British Columbia, Canada. In school, he did poorly in the academic subjects, but he soared in the artistic ones, including music (he is an accomplished guitarist) art (he is an accomplished cartoonist) and, of course, drama. His involvement in school plays led to small roles on Canadian television and also some work doing commercials. But, he dropped out of high school to pursue an acting career in Hollywood.
So, his father drove him down from Vancouver to Los Angeles and helped him get settled. Then, for two years, Michael struggled. He got work, but nothing major, and between paying his agent and his coach, and others, including the tax man, he could barely squeak by. In fact, he almost gave up to return to B.C. to resume a more normal and ordinary life.
But, his big break came with his audition to be on the show Family Ties, and the rest, as they say is history. It was a huge success, and he became the star. That wasn't intended. His was supposed to be a supporting role. But, he simply upstaged everyone else.
And it was while he was doing Family Ties that he was approached by Steven Spielberg and others to play the lead in Back to the Future. But, he was making Family Ties at the time, and the producer would not release him to do the other. So, what it came down to was that he made Family Ties during the day, and he made Back to the Future at night, and he simply didn't sleep much at all for 4 months or more.
That was not a healthy situation, and it was not the only thing that was unhealthy. It sounds like his diet was never very good. His father got to be obese, and I mean over 300 pounds. That should tell you something about the quality of the diet in the Fox household. (By the way, Michael Fox is his real name, but he added the middle initial “J”.) And when he talked about the food he lived on, especially when he was struggling, it was all fast-food.
Then, he smoked. And his father was a big smoker, so he was around it even as a child. I don't believe it stated whether his mother smoked. But, Michael J. Fox became a heavy smoker, and I mean from when he was a teenager.
And he liked to drink alcohol. He drank a lot. He got soused- often. He didn't drink while he worked, but when he got done working, he starting drinking and drinking heavy. That was his habit.
He didn't say anything in the book about indulging in illegal drugs, such as: marijuana, cocaine, etc. Does it mean he didn't use them at all or that he didn't use them much? I don't know.
But at the age of 30, he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's disease, which started with a twitching in one of his pinkies.
No one in his family ever had Parkinson's disease, and he didn't have any other risk factor, such as working around pesticides. So, why did he get it? My impression is that nobody claimed to know.
I can't tell you either, but I do know that smoking, drinking, eating a terrible diet, and incurring a monstrous sleep deficit are very damaging to health, including the health of the brain.
What if Michael J. Fox had never abused himself the way he did with substance abuse, sleep deprivation, and bad food? Would he still have developed Parkinson's disease at the age of 30? Neither I nor anyone else can answer that definitively, but I suspect that the outcome would have been quite different.
And I should add that the drug treatments were only palliative, meaning that they didn't cure the condition, nor did the stop the further progression of it. However, they did effectively suppress the manifestations, and he got to being very good at using the drugs to his best advantage so that he could work.
By the way, the book is very well written and very thoughtfully written. He may be uneducated, but he is a very bright man, and I respect him.
At one point, he submitted to a very high-tech brain surgery to destroy certain cell clusters with laser in the hope it would lessen his symptoms. It actually helped with his shakiness on his left side, but shortly after the surgery, he started shaking on his right side, which had never shook before.
After making a string of movies- some successful and some not- he went back into television to do Spin City where he played the right-hand man and chief strategist of the mayor of New York. It was another big success, and it was funny. And that's when he was really dosing himself heavily to keep his symptoms at bay during taping. But, they never went away completely, and it was really a challenge to pull it off, calling for some very creative tactics on his part. And, it was after that that he finally went public with his diagnosis and started to devoting himself to Parkinson's research and fund-raising.
And through it all he got married and had 4 children, 2 of whom are twins. At the time he found out he had Parkinson's disease, he had just one child, a son, Sam. It took a lot of courage for him to continue having children after that. But, he wasn't going to let the disease dictate the course of his life.
It's nice to see Michael J. Fox back to acting again because he is awfully good at it. But, here is what I think:
Medicine knows very little about the cause or causes of Parkinson's disease.
Medical treatment is palliative at best, and it may come at a high price since the drugs do have adverse effects. If it were me, I doubt I would take any of the Parkinson's drugs that are in common usage.
3. Michael's very destructive and abusive lifestyle had to play a major role in his contracting the disease.
And my guess is that the thing that played the single largest role in activating this disease in him was severe chronic sleep deprivation.