Michael J. Fox on Staying Positive After His Mother’s D eath: ‘She’d Never Add Up the Losses’

The actor discusses the d eath of his 92-year-old mother, Phyllis, in September.

Michael J. Fox has famously embraced the power of positivity over his three decades of battling Parkinson’s disease. It’s a trait he inherited from his mother, Phyllis, who died in September at 92.

“My mum had a long and fulfilling life. “There was no more revered woman,” Fox, 61, said. “She was a lovely lady. You were confident that you would be treated fairly. And she loved to laugh—she laughed all the time.”

Phyllis was concerned when he told her about his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis in 1991 at 29.

“I was still working TV and movies and establishing a family when I launched the foundation,” adds Fox, who married actress Tracy Pollan in 1988. Their son Sam, now 33, was born in 1989, and the couple added twin daughters Aquinnah and Schuyler — now 27 — in 1995, followed by their youngest, Esmé, 21.

“When she questioned how I did it all, I told her, ‘I just go forward.’” I’m not interested in taking stock or lamenting that something isn’t going to happen. My mum was the same way. She’d never calculate the losses. She’d consider the benefits.”
Fox links his resilience lessons to his youth with his mother and father, William, who died in 1990. Fox and his four siblings watched out for one another as military kids (William spent 25 years in the Canadian forces), and Phyllis was the glue that held the family together.

“Army wives are adaption masters,” he says. “They just know how to handle a new scenario, get the house together, get the schools set up, get a job on the side — since military money is nothing. We didn’t get it as youngsters. Now I understand.”

The actor, who has raised more than $1.5 billion for Parkinson’s research through the Michael J. Fox Foundation, acknowledges that his armor of optimism took a beating over the last year, which included a fractured hand, shoulder, right arm, and elbow.

But he’s upbeat today, “rocking and rolling” as his recuperation finally comes full circle. “I’m just coming through where the last of my injuries are mending up; my arm feels terrific,” he says. “Life is fascinating. This is what you get.”

In rough times, Fox remembers a maxim he devised while recovering from a dangerous spinal cord surgery to remove a tumor on his spine in 2018.

“If I can find thankfulness in anything I do and whatever scenario I’m in if I can find one little thing to be grateful for, it turns the whole situation around and allows for the possibility of grace, of something great happening,” the actor says. “I’m just getting back into that groove, so it’s very good.”

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