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
- Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (and sequels) (1993) - Chance (voice)
- Life with Mikey (1993) - Michael Chapman
- For Love or Money (1993) - Doug Ireland
- Greedy (1994) - Daniel "Danny" McTeague
- The American President (1995) - Lewis Rothschild
- The Frighteners (1996) - Frank Bannister (His last live action starring role)
- Mars Attacks! (1996) - Jason Stone
- Spin City (TV series) (1996-2000) - Michael "Mike" Flaherty
- Stuart Little (and sequels) (1999) - Stuart Little (voice) (The second film is his last starring role in a theatrical film)
- 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's roles
- Breakout Character: Alex P. Keaton was meant to contrast his parents, but effectively became the star of the show.
- 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.
- 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.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: He never made any attempt at not using his native Canadian accent in Hollywood, which has both naturally softened with living in the US for so long and is more-or-less close enough to an American one to serve the purpose however, anytime Alex or Marty says "sorry" or "tomorrow" pretty much gives the game away.
- 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.
- What Could Have Been: At the height of his stardom, he was considered to play Andrew Clark The Breakfast Club, Maverick in Top Gun and the title character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off before they went to Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise and Matthew Broderick respectively.
- 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 man 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.