In 1998, A-list actor Michael J. Fox publicly disclosed that he had been diagnosed seven years earlier with Parkinson’s disease, which impairs the body’s nervous and motor systems. At the time, the most notable people living with Parkinson’s were boxer Muhammad Ali and U.S. attorney general Janet Reno, but it has since impacted other figures such as Alan Alda, Neil Diamond, and Linda Ronstadt. More than 150 years after the disease was given a name, there remains no known cause for it, but Fox has devoted the last two decades of his life to answering that question and advancing treatment for people like him. In acknowledgment of these efforts, the recently retired performer has been announced as the next recipient of the film academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
Along with honorary award recipients Euzhan Palcy, Diane Warren, and Peter Weir, Fox is set to be recognized at the upcoming 13th annual Governors Awards. The 61-year-old has earned this accolade because of the way his “tireless advocacy of research on Parkinson’s disease alongside his boundless optimism exemplifies the impact of one person in changing the future for millions.” By using his artistic platform to spread his story of resilience and advocate for political awareness of his disease, he has become one of the modern world’s most prominent and influential activists.
Fox made his acting debut on the anthology TV series “The Magic Lie” in 1978 and then landed his first feature film role in 1980’s “Midnight Madness.” At the age of 21, he got his big break as a regular cast member on the NBC sitcom “Family Ties” and soon became its main draw, winning three Emmys for his performance between 1986 and 1988. The charm he displayed on the small screen for seven years fostered a boost in his film profile, with the greatest highlight on his resume of two dozen live action movie roles still being his work as Marty McFly in the “Back to the Future” trilogy (1985-1990).
Other notable films in which Fox appeared include “Teen Wolf” (1985), “Casualties of War” (1989), “The American President” (1995), and “Mars Attacks!” (1996). He also voiced lead characters in such films as “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey” (1993), “Stuart Little” (1999), and “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” (2001). In 1996, he began his four-year tenure as the star of the ABC show “Spin City,” for which he won his fourth Emmy in 2000.
In the years following Fox’s diagnosis announcement, he has been appointed to the Order of Canada, written four memoirs, and amassed eight guest acting Emmy nominations, winning once for “Rescue Me” in 2009. In its 21 years of existence, his eponymous non-profit foundation has funded over $1 billion worth of Parkinson’s disease research with a continual focus on finding a cure.
The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award is given to honor “an individual in the motion picture arts and sciences whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.” Its namesake served as president of the academy for four years and of the Motion Picture & Television Fund for 18. It has been bestowed 42 times since 1957, with the last recipient having been Danny Glover in January 2022. With the exception of the 93rd Oscars in 2021, the award has been presented since 2009 at an individual ceremony that takes place several months before the same year’s main event. Fox and the honorary awardees will collect their trophies on November 19, 2022.
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