The same sharp intelligence and self-deprecating wit that made Michael J Fox a star in the Spin City television series and Back to the Future films make Lucky Man a lot punchier than the usual up-from-illness celebrity memoir.
Yes, he begins with the first symptoms of Parkinson's disease, the incurable illness that led to his retirement from Spin City (and acting) in 2000. And yes, he assures us he is a better, happier person now than he was before he was diagnosed. In Fox's case, you actually might believe it, because he then cheerfully exposes the insecurities and self-indulgences of his pre-Parkinson's life in a manner that makes them not glamorous but wincingly ordinary and of course very funny. ("As for the question, 'Does it bother you that maybe she just wants to sleep with you because you're a celebrity?' My answer to that one was, 'Ah... nope.'")
From a Canadian, working-class background, Fox has an unusually detached perspective on the madness of mass-media fame; his description of the tabloid feeding-frenzy surrounding his 1988 wedding to Tracy Pollan, for example, manages to be both acid and matter-of-fact. He is frank but not maudlin about his drinking problem, and he refreshingly notes that getting sober did not automatically solve all his other problems. This readable, witty autobiography reminds you why it was generally a pleasure to watch Fox on screen: he's a nice guy with an edge, and you don't have to feel embarrassed about liking him.
I grew up watching Michael J. Fox play Alex P. Keaton on "Family Ties". I think one of the remarkable things he did, as an actor on that show, was to take a potentially completely unlikeable character and humanize him. I think a good deal of that is there is a certain "niceness" to Michael J. Fox the person that just comes through on the screen. It definitely comes through in this book.
Like many people, I was shocked when he went public with his Parkinson's diagnosis. It felt especially horrible because he seems like such a truly nice person- and nice people don't deserve these kinds of things. Especially not a young person with a young family. Because I had this image of him, certain revelations in this book came as a shock- like his drinking problem. He credits his Parkinson's diagnosis with leading him to stop drinking. Indeed, he credits Parkinson's with "forcing" him to make many choices that made him a better man. Hence the title, "Lucky Man" which he says without a trace of irony and a great deal of sincerity. That's not to say he didn't have "Why me?" moments. Of course he did.
Fox's description of himself as a "lucky man" reminds me of one of my favorite memories of my mother, who died of stomach cancer a few years ago. We were sitting in the waiting room at her oncologist's office, waiting to get some blood work done and her chemo treatment. She looks around the room and tells me, "I'm lucky." Of course I look at her like she's insane- she's only in her 50's and she has inoperable stomach cancer. So, I give her "the Look". She looks at me and says, "Look at that old man and his daughter and her 4 kids." I look and there's an old man with his daughter and her 4 kids under the age of 5. My mother says, "You think the daughter is here supporting her father like you're here for me, right? I met her, the daughter, and she has leukemia." My mother then instructs me to look at another grandfather, his daughter, and their 10-ish year old child. I know what's coming, but she said it anyway. She tells me, "I met the boy last week when we were both getting blood drawn." My mother looks at me and says, "I'm lucky because I lived long enough to see you grown and for my grandchildren to remember me when I'm gone." Less than a year later, my mother was dead at 58, but she insisted up to the end that she was "lucky".
Michael J. Fox has retired from acting, but began a new career as an activist for Parkinson's. Especially research devoted to finding a cure, which he says many researchers think is only a decade away. I hope he's wrong and a cure comes sooner. Highly recommend this book
Rating: 4 stars
The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research