Michael J. Fox, Our Big-Time Hero

Todd Sherer, CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, with Michael J. Fox and Anne Wojcicki

Michael J. Fox is a great actor, but his smiles and good humor during a visit to 23andMe headquarters in Mountain View this week were fully sincere.

“I really mean what I say when I express optimism, positivity and gratitude,” Michael said. “I don’t have those dark moments, but at the same time, having said that, I know people with Parkinson’s suffer depression. I know I live a kind of rarified life and have had good fortune. I don’t mean to compare my attitude to others’.”

His stop at 23andMe was part of a sort of mini-West Coast tour with stops in Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland. Joining him were other officials from the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which included CEO Todd Sherer and Debi Brooks, the foundation’s co-founder and Executive Vice Chairman.

Since it was formed just over a decade ago, the Michael J. Fox Foundation has raised more than $285 million for Parkinson’s research, and the actor has brought worldwide attention to the illness. The foundation has also been an intimate partner with 23andMe’s work on Parkinson’s. (The Foundation posted a blog on the visit here.) While the partnership has already borne fruit, initially it required the foundation to take a risk on us, said our CEO Anne Wojcicki.

“None of this could have happened if we didn’t partner with the Michael J. Fox Foundation,” Anne said during the visit. “I come from the research world and a lot of scientists don’t like to take risks, or try something new.”

But the gamble has paid off. In a short time 23andMe’s Parkinson’s Research Community has grown to more than 7,500, the world’s largest Parkinson’s community for genetic research. In that time, we’ve been able to replicate known genetic associations for Parkinson’s; we’ve discovered two new genetic associations with the disease; and late last year we found a genetic variant that is possibly protective against the disease.

This is all heady stuff, said Michael.

“What excites me is what the Fox Foundation is doing with 23andMe,” he said. “Especially after today…it’s crucial work that you’re doing.”

Still boyishly handsome at 50, Fox has become known not just for his acting and good humor, but for his philanthropy and the work he has done on Parkinson’s. First diagnosed in 1991, he has continued to act, while raising his four children and doing work with the foundation.

During his visit he took questions from employees at 23andMe.

Saying he has been an inspiration for so many people, he was asked who inspired him.

“My big time heroes are Gandhi, (Martin Luther King), and Nelson Mandela,” he said. “People who respond to negativity with positivity, optimism and non-violence. Those are my mega-heroes. But the Parkinson’s patient community inspires me. The scientific community inspires me and anyone seeking knowledge inspires me. So you all inspire me. And my kids.”

Fox said he’d spoken with an English researcher looking into optimism and was told his genetics fit the profile of someone with a predisposition toward optimism.

“I like to say it’s in my genes,” he said.

And of course he got a few movie star questions:
“Did you really ride on a hover board for Back to the Future II?

“Actually I had a pink piece of plastic stapled to my feet and I was strapped hanging from a cherry picker,” he said.

“If we collectively find a cure would you agree to star in another Back to the Future movie?

“Sure, but I’ll play Doc this time.”


  • Kaela Creighton

    This makes me feel better. At least we’re all working towards something! I’m glad he has that gene and is hopeful. I guess it takes a world. No, a lot of scientists and people don’t like something new because there are a lot of considerations that have to be taken into account, but hey, they’ll push and we’ll pull. You’ll never know if you don’t go. I’m paranoid. I try to ignore myself, but it’s difficult. 23andme isn’t the only one trying new things… Resistance is futile.

    So where’s the BMI-thing? I’m really curious about those answers.

  • Salinas Otilia

    Soy una señora de 49 años que vivo en la Argentina, en la provincia de corrientes soy madre de 6 hijos mi nena mas chica tiene tan solo 7 años, y yo padezco de Parkinson desde hace 5 años no encuentro mejoría a pesar de los medicamentos, estoy en la lista de cirugía que se esta realizando en el hospital Posadas, pero los médicos aclaran que no es la cura la que seria una mejor calidad de vida por lo que los medicamentos me están afectando el hígado necesito comunicarme con ustedes y si es posible de su ayuda puesto que a usted se le ve muy bien creo que esta curado y espero realmente que sea así y que me pueda contestar si no podría haber la misma posibilidad para mi porque deseo verle crecer a mi hija y tengo muchas cosas que hacer todavía.
    Gracias desde ya espero su respuesta.
    Saludo Atentamente: Otilia.

  • Hope Ortiz

    I loved this interview. I say if we work as a team we can get things done.Mr.Fox has inspired me beyond words.I wrote him 3 books I hope one day hell get the chance to read.online 2 years ago I thought I was talking to my hero Mr.Fox and it wasn’t it was someone imitating him online. I wrote a book about it and published it in our local newspaper.this fall were doing a bake sale called pastries for parkinsons I know they will find the cure.I have Bi Polar so what Mr.Fox said really affected me. Some day I hope I can meet my favorite actor and one day when the cure is found see him and other pd patients healthy and not suffering.

  • Randolph Baker

    I used to see Michael J. Fox and think “There but for the grace of God go I.” Today I have PD – fortunately still a mild case – but appreciate more and more what a wonderful contribution Mr. Fox is making not only to those of us with PD but more importantly to all mankind. Thanks for the short, but insightful interview.

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