NEW YORK – Michael J. Fox isn’t very good at feeling discouraged, whether for himself or anybody else.
“Right now, things are tough,” he’ll concede, “and people have reason to expect the worst. But I see a real effort by people to turn all that into a positive – to seize the opportunity to strive for something better.”
Go ahead and call Fox an optimist. It’s a title this actor, activist and Parkinson’s patient has already claimed. It’s the ID he says he prefers.
Fox’s hopeful new memoir, “Always Looking Up,” is riding high on best-seller lists, and he’s following up with a TV special on a similarly spirited track: “Michael J. Fox: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist” airs on ABC at 10 p.m. EDT Thursday and also on CTV’s A Channel in a few Canadian markets.
During the hour, Fox visits with seven-time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. He joins TV star (and Chicago Cubs loyalist) Bonnie Hunt at Wrigley Field – where hope springs eternal among fans of a team that hasn’t won a World Series in their lifetimes. He journeys to the Himalayan nation of Bhutan, where happiness is a national priority.
His wide-ranging program “isn’t prescriptive,” Fox was telling a reporter earlier this week in his office on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “I just need to express myself, because that’s what I do. It’s the only way I can live my life: to embrace the possibilities, instead of fear the realities.
“We’ve been scared for a while,” he says. “Before the economy, it was the war and terrorism. And we reacted fearfully at first. But I think we’re trying something new, now: It’s not about duct-taping yourself inside your house. It’s about opening your windows and seeing what’s out there.
“In my own way, I’m cheerleading that.”
It was in 1998 that Fox publicly revealed the Parkinson’s disease with which he had been diagnosed seven years earlier. In 2000, he left his successful TV series, “Spin City,” and retired from full-time acting.
Fox, who was born in Edmonton and grew up in Burnaby, B.C., remains boyish-looking at age 47 and has kept busy since then with his family (he’s married to actress Tracy Pollan, with whom he has four children), his writing and the occasional acting gig (like his appearance this season as a paraplegic junkie on the FX drama “Rescue Me”).
Meanwhile, he’s become a forceful advocate for research to find a cure for Parkinson’s.
“Optimism doesn’t mean being in denial,” Fox says. “It’s not Pollyannish. It allows for the fact that things are tough. There can be tough optimism: an acceptance of obstacles, with a willingness to fight through them.”
As Fox speaks, he appears unconcerned by his rocking and fidgeting – a symptom of Parkinson’s. Nor has he let his condition bring an end to his sporting pursuits, including golf, which he took up after his diagnosis.
On his special, he plays golf with Bill Murray.
“I’m a terrible golfer! But it’s just so much fun to get out there,” says Fox, maybe summing up his feel-good message when he adds, “Optimism isn’t about hoping for the end result. I’m content to enjoy the hope, without needing to be assured of the outcome.”
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