June 2023

Reflections on the MJ Fox Movie “STILL”  

Michael J. Fox got his Parkinson’s diagnosis at age 29. At the same time, he also got some unsolicited wisdom from his neurologist. According to Fox in the new movie about his life, “Still” his doctor told him “You lose this game.” No doubt the Doctor thought he was sparing Fox unrealistic expectations, treating him as an adult, refusing to sugar-coat the news, leaving no room for false hope. But what he was actually doing was talking nonsense. 

How can you win the “game” of Parkinson’s Disease? How can you lose the game of Parkinson’s? Calling a chronic, progressive, disabling, and incurable disease a game is a good way to trivialize it while simultaneously extinguishing hope of prevailing. That looks like a losing strategy for sure, and fortunately for those of us suffering with this affliction, this was not the path that Fox chose to follow.

There are some who believe that the Parkinson’s community got lucky when Fox got his diagnosis, As I have pointed out elsewhere, this is not only an ignoble way to think, it also happens to be wrong. Prominent people are regularly diagnosed with Parkinson’s. That is a devastating thing to have happen and the way most respond to it is by lowering their public profile, gradually disappearing from the public mind. This is understandable, saving energy to focus on coping with a chronic disease.   

Where we got lucky with Fox was not that he got sick, but how he handled the unwelcome intruder in his up-until-then amazingly successful life. Instead of withdrawing as he easily and honorably could have done, he chose a different route, trekking through Hell on the way, hiding his diagnosis for seven years while continuing to work as an actor, driven to alcoholism, achieving sobriety, revealing his diagnosis, writing books, setting up a foundation to hasten a cure and becoming the leading advocate for research into Parkinson’s Disease. 

He set an example for the rest of us, busting the myth that PD is just a disease of the old and raising awareness of Parkinson’s at home and overseas. He became an icon, not just to people who live with Parkinson’s, but to people from all walks of life from all over the World. 

Not bad for a high-school dropout.

STILL reveals the rugged road that Mr. Fox walks with advanced Parkinson’s Disease; the shaking, the falls with their broken bones, the maddening difficulty in speaking.  The physical pain is, he says with a little prodding, severe. The mental anguish has to be as well, although it is cushioned by his family and the love of his wife, Tracy Pollan. 

Though he now admits “Gravity is real,” Fox maintains his stubborn, if battered, optimism. When asked where he sees himself in 20 years, he replies, “I’ll either be cured or a pickle.” In real life, not the game invoked by the diagnosing doctor, the true measure of success or winning is not some hard and fast benchmark. No referee stands you up in the spotlight and holds up your hand celebrating you as the victor of the match. It’s a more complex question of how you choose to spend your time here, and how much did you do with the opportunities and abilities you had and skills you developed. By that formula, there is no doubt that Fox won. 

by Peter Dunlap-Shohl
NW Parkinson’s Blogger

“It is the work of the creative to be a prosthetic imagination for the distracted and the dull”
– Maxwell Hubert Maxwell, playwright, butterfly collector, amateur surgeon and snob.