He started off as a Teen Idol in The '80s, making a dual hit on both film and television as Marty McFly from the Back to the Future trilogy (1985-1990) and Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties (1982-1989), for which he won three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award. A rather popular but generally less famous role was the main character in Teen Wolf. He also did some serious stuff that almost no one remembers, and he's acknowledged that he isn't an actor who can "blend" into a wide variety of roles.
In The '90s, he played Mike Flaherty on Spin City (1996-2000), for which he won an Emmy, three Golden Globes, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards. He was also Jon Stewart's first guest as host of The Daily Show in 1999.
Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1991, and disclosed his condition to the public in 1998. Fox semi-retired from acting in 2000 as the symptoms of his disease worsened. He has since become an advocate for research towards finding a cure.
Despite his "retirement", he has guest starred on various television shows and also some voice acting work, most notably Stuart Little and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, where his distinctive boyish voice adds to the generally benign nature of his characters. Some of his guest spots have him pigeon-holed as a man with an illness; when he guested on Boston Legal he had lung cancer, when he guested on Scrubs he had OCD and when he guested on The Good Wife he had a neurological disorder.
He also appeared as himself in his prime-time special Michael J. Fox: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist (A Personal Journey of Hope) in May 2009. He made a surprise appearance at the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics, where he declared everyone attending to be honorary Canadians - which he then claims means that Canada won every gold medal of the games! On May 4, 2010, he (for lack of a better word) trolled Stephen Colbert on his own show. In 2011, he also trolled Larry David on his show.
He made his return to TV with the sitcom The Michael J. Fox Show, which ran from October 2013 to January 2014. In 2020 he publicly stated he was no longer actively seeking acting roles due to his Parkinson's making it hard to memorize lines but would still consider a taking an offered part if it was a great one and worked for him.
He has four children with his wife, actress Tracy Pollan.
- Midnight Madness (1980) - Scott
- Family Ties (1982-89) - Alex P. Keaton
- High School U.S.A. (1983) - J.J. Manners
- Back to the Future Trilogy
- Teen Wolf (1985) - Scott Howard
- The Secret of My Success (1987) - Brantley Foster/Carlton Whitfield
- Bright Lights, Big City (1988) - Jamie Conway
- Casualties of War (1989) - PFC. Max Eriksson
- Doc Hollywood (1991) - Dr. Benjamin "Ben" Stone
- The Hard Way (1991) - Nick Lang
- For Love or Money (1993) - Doug Ireland
- Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (and sequels) (1993) - Chance (voice)
- Greedy (1994) - Daniel "Danny" McTeague
- The American President (1995) - Lewis Rothschild
- The Frighteners (1996) - Frank Bannister
- Mars Attacks! (1996) - Jason Stone
- Spin City (TV series) (1996-2000) - Michael "Mike" Flaherty
- Stuart Little (and sequels) (1999) - Stuart Little (voice)
- Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) - Milo Thatch (voice)
- The Michael J. Fox Show (2013-14) - Mike Henry
- Designated Survivor (2018) - Ethan West
Tropes Associated with Michael J. Fox
- And I Must Scream: Fox describes this as what would happen if he was in a position where he couldn't take his pills.
- Artifact Alias: He added the imaginary middle initial J because there was already a Michael Fox in the union. (His real middle name is Andrew.) When Michael Fox died, SAG offered Michael J. the opportunity to change his professional name back to his real name, but by then he and the public were used to it.
- Breakout Character: Alex P. Keaton was meant to contrast his parents, but effectively became the star of the show.
- Canada, Eh?: He's a native of Edmonton.
- Celebrity Paradox: Appearing in character as Marty McFly on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, he was asked to stick around at the conclusion of the bit because Michael J. Fox would be the first guest on the show that night. His reply: "Oh, the guy from Teen Wolf!"
- Dawson Casting: He was 23 playing 17 year old Marty McFly, and due to his short stature and youthful face has almost never played a character the same age. In Spin City Michael Flaherty was established as just turning 30 just as Fox was approaching 40.
- Determinator: He did the first Back to the Future film while simultaneously working full-time on Family Ties, effectively carrying the show himself, since his Family Ties costar Meredith Baxter was out because she was pregnant, getting at most a few hours of sleep on most days. And then there's his battle with Parkinson's disease, originally told he'd have less than 10 years before the disease would overtake him, but 25 years later, he's still working.
- Fake American: Many people are very surprised to learn he is Canadian born (though he holds dual US citizenship).
- Fatal Method Acting: Almost fell victim to this in Back to the Future: Part III. While shooting the hanging scene, his hand slipped and he got hanged for real, until a crewmember noticed he wasn't breathing and resuscitated him.
- Keet: He's always been quite energetic and he confessed that in more recent productions his energy is to hide the signs of Parkinson's.
- Military Brat: In Real Life; he's the son of a Canadian Forces member who moved around Canada until he was 10, when his father retired and settled the family in the Vancouver area.
- Older Than He Looks: For many years, due to his short stature and youthful face. However, the effects of his condition have been pushing him up recently. Even still, he doesn't look like he is in his fifties.
- Old Shame:
- He really hated working on Teen Wolf and refused to come back for the sequel.
- He regrets dropping out of high school in order to pursue his career as an actor as "a stupid youthful mistake", that he has since mandated that his children should at least finish high school and maybe one year of college themselves.
- On a recent appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Fox admits he doesn't like most of the films he made after his Parkinson's diagnosis, because during that time his thinking was, "I'd better do as many movies as I can before I can no longer act", and started accepting roles for movies that, in the end, weren't very good.
- One Steve Limit: There was already a Michael Fox in the Screen Actor's Guild when Michael J. Fox was just starting out, so he used the middle initial "J" in homage to actor Michael J. Pollard. For the record, his middle name is actually Andrew, but he wanted to avoid headlines like "Michael, A Fox!" or "Michael 'Eh?' Fox". Now he's taken over as videos of the other Michael Fox are impossible to find. note
- Teens Are Short: He's around 5'4", which allowed him to play teenage characters into his late twenties. Brandon Tartikoff, president of NBC Entertainment, the network that aired Family Ties, actually thought he was too short to be the son of 6'4" Michael Gross.
- Written-In Infirmity: He's taken many roles, some major, since his "retirement." If you want to cast him, all you have to do is say the character, too, has Parkinsons (though as mentioned before, other ailments, some which do not present as Fox's Parkinsons does, have been used). Notably, he's not always the Ill Boy whose disease is the main feature of the character; one line mentioning his illness lets you know why that one lawyer guy walks like that, and on we go with the plot.