Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book review: Lucky Man: A Memoir by Michael J. Fox (audio, abridged)

First to say, I hate abridgments. I think they shouldn't exist anymore. And if they do, Overdrive should be more upfront about them (Overdrive also should give me the total number of hours and let me sort by category but this isn't a review of Overdrive.) That said, this is one I can kind of understand because Michael J. Fox narrates it himself, and I imagine that wasn't the easiest thing for him to do. I of course always love it when an author who is a professional performer does their own narration, but due to his Parkinson's disease, it likely was taxing, and I expect his clarity might have suffered. However, I had no trouble understanding him. You could certainly tell that he wasn't the free-flowing snappy Fox of the Alex P. Keaton-era, but that's a huge part of his story so it made perfect sense.

Michael wasn't very good in school, and early on caught the acting bug. It wasn't something he was driven to as much as it was something he was good at, and one summer in high school in the 1970s, he made $6000 acting. He had a convincing argument for his parents to let him drop out of school, and since his father was career military and he was the first in his family poised to go to college, that wasn't an easy thing to do (he did get his GED in his mid-30s). But his father helped him move to Hollywood from Canada, and he started working right away. Soon after, there was a big strike and because he was not American, he couldn't do any other job aside from acting, so he struggled quite a bit financially. And then came Family Ties. The producer and the director fought over him, but luckily he got the job and was perfect for it. And I really admired his loyalty to stay on the show to the very end, even through all the success (and the 20-hour days while filming) of the Back to the Future series. He met his wife on Family Ties, and everyone from that show has stayed tight.

While filming an unmemorable movie in the late 1980s, Doc Hollywood, Mike noticed a twitch in his little finger that wouldn't go away. It unnerved him and he looked into it much more than I would have, but in the end did not go see his assistant's brother, a neurosurgeon. Luckily, his wife is a bit of a hypochondriac and she kept pressing him when he had other odd symptoms. Eventually he was delivered the unlikely diagnosis of very early onset Parkinson's disease. For ten years he hid the diagnosis from most of the public and his coworkers. He created the sitcom Spin City in order to have an easier, regular job which was better for managing his disease, but it still eventually became untenable. Eventually he had brain surgery to stop the twitches and convulsions on his left side. He only had a couple of weeks of complete freedom before his right side started to twitch. He had to retire. And he used that opportunity to tell the public why. Most people with Parkinson's are elderly and not in a position to do fundraising or lobbying. The 10% of the people with early onset who could help with that are afraid of losing their jobs and income and insurance if they do. Mike felt he was in a position to be able to influence the public about this disease and help thousands. Many of us remember him testifying before Congress, unmedicated.

The first few years after the diagnosis were rough. He was partying hard already, and he went through the typical stages of grief including denial. But he hit a low point, when he realized his wife was probably going to leave him, and he quit drinking and quit ignoring his health. His family has been very important and an invaluable support.

Mike really feels like a regular guy. You can see being friends with him, hanging out at a backyard cookout, and its nice for a nice, regular guy to have such success. But it does feel like karma kicked him in the teeth with this illness. But now, he's doing even more important work, between fundraising and awareness raising for Parkinson's, the fact that he's continuing to act on respected shows like The Good Wife (which wasn't mentioned on the audiobook which was published in 2002) expands the options for everyone with disabilities. He is such an accessible and likable star that it feels like, if he can get this illness, anyone can. And if he can soldier on through his troubles, anyone can. He never feels sorry for himself and in the end, the book is inspiring without being maudlin or sappy.

I checked this book out of the library via Overdrive.

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