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New York City
July 2002

A Memoir of Michael J. Fox
By Joan Baum

Safe to say that if it were not for Michael J. Fox’s bold statement before the press in September 1998 and subsequent appearances in Congress and on T.V., Parkinson’s Disease (P.D.) would be not so prominent a subject today or at the center of the controversy surrounding stem cell research. (The “J,” by the way, was made up to distinguish MJF the actor from another Michael Fox with an Actors Equity card.) Simply put, what MJF did four years ago was to make it all right for thousands of secret sufferers to acknowledge this degenerative neurological disease. In a way, Fox’s announcement was like Betty Rollin’s years ago about breast cancer in her book, First You Cry – a breakthrough Lucky Man is certain to encourage those who feel victimized by P.D. to convert their fears to action and join the campaign for a way to slow or stop the inevitable course of the disease. Of course, Fox may have had no choice but to go public, since the tabloids were already suggesting that his withdrawal from the phenomenally successful “Spin City” and his slowdown in accepting more movie roles pointed to a serious neurological disease. In fact, by 1998, it had already been seven years that the now 37-year old actor had been keeping his condition secret. That story and much more is the subject of his inspiring memoir.

Lucky Man has the odd distinction of probable appeal to two different audiences:

1) younger fans who will revel in MJF’s recounting of how a hell-raising, high school drop out from a working-class Canadian family became a star; and 2) an older audience who will read the book, mainly for the information it provides about diagnosing P.D. and learning perhaps how to accept the inevitable. What links the parts is Fox’s repeated moving tribute to his loving and supportive wife, Tracy Pollan and their children, most of whom were born after he learned he had P.D. Even he finds it ironic that the mischievous star of the TV series Family Ties should finally embrace family values. In truth, however, Tracy seems to have served him well before the onset of the disease. This is a well written book and there is no doubt that the voice is his. Although Fox entitles the book Lucky Man, it is more than likely that what got him through denial to resignation and acceptance, has less to do with luck than with inner resources: humor, drive, and focus. Luck might also be ascribed to his choice of wife, but in truth his choice–and hers–would seem to reflect innate values and sound intuition. It was Tracy who kept after him to look into why, one hangover morning he can hardly recollect, he could not control a sudden odd twitching in his left pinky.

Lucky Man has much to recommend to that second readership–indeed, perhaps, even to the younger first, since Fox himself came down with the disease at the relatively rare young age of 30. Because of his extraordinary book and efforts, P.D. is now as well known as Alzheimer’s and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), an etiology it partially shares with these other neurological disorders. Fox believes that of the three, P.D. will be “the first domino to fall” in the efforts to prevent, treat, or cure the disease. At the very least, however, this memoir will be instructive to those who live in silent and lonely fear. The title might be misleading — the book has an upbeat tone and comforting message: reassess your life, find your true values, seek and keep love — an exhortation not unlike what has been offered to the victims of 9/11. One cannot be comforted, however, for getting a debilitating illness, but one can find strength and, absent that, perhaps with a bit of luck, others who can help in the struggle to find it. In one of the most touching parts of the book, MJF extends a wise and compassionate invitation to his curious and no doubt frightened young son to be his scout for the twitching hand — to take charge, squeeze it, control it . . . for the moment. This moving scene, of many, no doubt, the author hopes, will move readers to support the efforts to combat P.D.

All proceeds from Lucky Man are being donated to The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.#

(See Medical Update pages 12,13)


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