Fox drives Parkinson's research back to the future

Anne McIlroy

New York — From Saturday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Friday, Sep. 18, 2009 06:12PM EDT

Michael J. Fox comes to the door of his Manhattan office with a muscular, rambunctious puppy named Gus, a Great Dane/black-lab cross that he concedes is a lot of dog for someone with Parkinson's disease.

“You'd think a guy with Parkinson's who's not as strong as he might have been doesn't really need a 95-pound dog dragging him through the park,” the Canadian-born actor, author and philanthropist says after settling Gus in the reception area with a toy lobster and sitting down on the couch.

Mr. Fox may be best known for his roles in Family Ties, Spin City and the Back to the Future movies, but in recent years he has become the public face of Parkinson's, a progressive, incurable brain disease diagnosed in 1991, when he was 30.

It affects his muscle control and gives him a shaky, uneven gait, but he is confident that by the time five-month-old Gus is big enough to pull him down, he will have invested so much love and time in training him that his pet won't yank him off his feet.

That kind of optimism has defined Mr. Fox since he first went public about his illness in 1998, and Canadians will get a dose of it this week when he comes to Toronto to celebrate the fact that the Michael J. Fox Foundation now has charitable status in Canada.