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Hero's hero

About Michael J. Fox

As an actor, Michael J. Fox defined the eighties for us on both the big and little screens; first, as Alex P. Keaton, the endearing and enthusiastic Republican son on television’s Family Ties, and second, in Back to the Future as young Marty McFly in the time-travel blockbuster trilogy. His legions of fans were understandably elated to have him back 1995 as Michael Flaherty in the smash hit Spin City.

What his fans didn't know was that Fox had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1991. Dreading sensationalistic publicity, he decided with his family and his doctors that they would keep the diagnosis under wraps. Seven years after the diagnosis, Fox decided it was time to announce his disease to the public in a move that would have radical implications not only for his own life, but for the future for all people suffering with Parkinson's.

In response to that announcement came a tidal outpouring of empathy and concern from the public, and Michael J. Fox knew he had the opportunity to turn his personal battle into a global fight on behalf of every person who suffers from degenerative neurological disorders. With his wife, Tracy Pollan, Michael established the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. This foundation has become the largest not-for-profit funder of Parkinson's disease research.

Fox's courage in coming forward, combined with his charm, humility, and natural optimism, have succeeded in moving the frontiers of science and raised awareness about Parkinson’s exponentially. He knows there is a cure within reach and is committed to doing whatever it takes to get us there.

Debi Brooks

by Michael J. Fox

I think that a lot of times people think of heroes as larger-than-life individuals who do the extraordinary. I'm like everybody else in that respect and my larger-than-life heroes are the same as a lot of people--Martin Luther King, Jr.; Mohandas K. Gandhi; and Rosa Parks.

Muhammad Ali is another great hero of mine. He is an imperfect man, but he has taken powerful stands in the most basic human way and with such dignity. When I finally met him and spoke with him, it was tremendously humbling.

But in addition to those heroes who act on a grand scale, there is another breed—the everyday heroes. They serve as a moral compass, pointing the way to right thinking and right action in our daily lives.

My older brother Steve is one of these heroes for me. He and his wife Laureen did nothing more than raise a son who was born with spinal bifida--but raised him with such patience and love and commitment, without self-pity or a sense of martyrdom. They just loved their son and raised him.

Michael J. Fox & Debi Brooks (Courtesy of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, photo by Mark Seliger)
Michael J. Fox & Debi Brooks (Courtesy of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, photo by Mark Seliger)

Those are the same values my parents had. Now that I'm a parent, they are even greater heroes to me. They raised five kids on a military salary, moved all across Canada, and still managed to create a strong family bond that endures to this day. My wife, Tracy, and I are raising four kids with far more resources, luxuries, and time, and I hope that we do as good a job.

And then there's Debi Brooks, the president and CEO of our foundation. When I started the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, I thought we needed someone with a personal connection to the disease. So the first question I asked Debi was, "Do you know anyone with Parkinson's?" I was surprised to learn that Debi had no direct experience of this disease, nor any family member of close friend afflicted, which is often the spur that leads someone to get personally involved. This is one of the things that I find most remarkable about Debi. It is rare to find someone who can commit as strongly and as passionately as she does without having that sort of personal interest in the cause.

Debi has taken on this fight as though her own life and the lives of those closest to her were on the line. She’s also got what it takes to back up those good intentions. A brilliant operational and strategic planner, she knows how to marshal ideas and people toward a common goal.

The decision to work with us to cure Parkinson’s has required sacrifice, both personally and financially. The skills, dedication, heart, and integrity she brings to the Foundation would guarantee her wild success wherever she applied herself—but Debi looked beyond those traditional trappings. She is always going full throttle and it has nothing to do with applause or being in the spotlight or getting credit--for her it is all about getting the job done.

In a very real way, Debi is fighting my fight and I couldn’t ask for a better champion and partner to stand up to Parkinson’s. She is truly a force of nature and I often joke that we are fortunate that she chooses to use her powers for good.

All my heroes--Debi, my brother, and my parents, Ali, and the rest—have become a personal reference library of instinct and actions. Very often I ask myself in the immediate sense, "How would Steve or my father look at this?" Or in the bigger sense, "How would Gandhi deal with this?" So if there is a common trait among all my heroes it is this: They are all people who become extraordinary by virtue of their willingness to stand up and fight for the right thing: fight for freedom; justice and equality; fight against disease or against the odds to keep their families whole and safe. What could be more heroic than that?

Page created on 9/19/2006 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 8/28/2018 2:10:30 AM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Extra Info

Copyright 2005 by The MY HERO Project

MY HERO thanks Michael J. Fox for contributing this essay to My Hero: Extraordinary People on the Heroes Who Inspire Them.

Thanks to Free Press for reprint rights of the above material.