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Encore: A Conversation With Michael J. Fox

Aired November 26, 2010 - 20:00   ET



MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: With Parkinson's, it's like you're crossing the road and you get stuck in the middle. And you know the bus is coming, and you can't get out of the way.

So, you can kind of freak out and you can kind of go, well, that bus is going to hit me at some point, even though you don't know how fast or how big.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: There's so much we don't know about Parkinson disease. What exactly causes for it, for instance, and why would someone at the age of 29 start to develop the symptoms? No one knows.

But this, we do know. Michael J. Fox has in many ways become the handsome face of Parkinson's. Did you know that he's had the disease for almost 19 years now? What is his life like day to day? And what is he planning on doing with the $200 million he's raised through his foundation? What can we all learn in him?

I will tell you, he doesn't do a lot of long interviews, because he gets so tired nowadays. But, on this day, he had a lot to say.


GUPTA: People, when I said I was going to be interviewing you, people would ask me, how's he doing? And, again, I don't want to belabor that, but I'm just -- you're doing OK?

FOX: Yes.

What I was going say that I refer to Parkinson's and the effect it's had on my life as a gift. And people are completely dubious of that and kind of wonder how I could say that.

But I quantify it -- qualify it by saying it's a gift that keeps on taking, but it is a gift, because it's really opened me up to more kind of compassionate, curious, risk-taking person. And it's given me -- I wouldn't call the foundation my magnum opus, but it's definitely the most important thing I have ever done or will probably do in my life.

GUPTA: With a disease like Parkinson's, with humidity, for example, what's happening? What do you experience?

FOX: Everybody has their own thing. Everybody has their own version of it.

I'm on and off. It's the story of my life, is when I'm on and when I'm off. For example, now, I'm relatively on. And, in the course of this interview, I will probably go towards being off.

And I will try to correct that midstream with medication. But, sometimes, I catch it. Sometimes, I don't. And, sometimes, my brain is more receptive to it, and sometimes it isn't.

GUPTA: You're trying grab something. And if the brakes are off, so to speak, you will shake. Right now, when you're moving, like I see you're grabbing your left leg, are you trying to tell your left leg not to move? Like, is that something that you're constantly thinking about? Or...

FOX: You know something? It's like Whac-A-Mole. It's like the arm will go. If I stop the arm, the other arm will go. I sit down, the leg will go, cross the leg. It's going to go somewhere.

So it's constantly moving it around until -- and then there will be times when I will just be stop and be still. Right now, for example, if I wasn't talking with you, if I was just sitting, I would be perfectly still.

GUPTA: Is that the stress part of it? Or is that...


FOX: Yes. That's just -- again, it's like the stuff that fires that tells you I want to pick up this glass is firing to tell me that something's required of me here. And my mind can't tell my brain what it is.

GUPTA: When you wake up in the morning, is there a certain routine you have to go through? Do you take your med at a certain time then? Or do you feel a certain way?


FOX: Well, it changes. But, for the most part, when I wake up, I have a feature called dystonia, which is a rigidity, a cramping.

With me, it affects my feet. So, strangely enough, the first time my wife often hears me in the morning is me clumping across the floor, because I keep a hard pair of shoes right next to the bed. And I wake up and I put them on and immediately the stiffness of the shoe kind of forces the feet to behave.

And then I wait probably about half-an-hour, 45 minutes before I -- I might take a half-a-pill just to get me started. But I might wait a couple hours before -- depending on what my day requires of me before I really kick in.

GUPTA: Things like even tending to yourself, brushing your hair, brushing your teeth?


FOX: Well, I sometimes (INAUDIBLE) electric toothbrush without the necessity of a battery or a charger. I just...

GUPTA: Put your hand in the...

FOX: Yes, put one hand in and let it go.

Yes, all that stuff, again, it's -- you just -- I'm just used to it. I'm just used to it. I mean, it's -- any of us have -- whatever we face in our lives, we find ways to deal and move forward. If we don't, it doesn't matter what you have, the result is going to be the same. You're not going to go forward. You're going to stagnate, and it doesn't matter anyway.

Right now, we're in an extraordinary situation. I don't sit down for interviews every day. As surprising as it may seem, people are sick of seeing me. But it carries with it a certain amount of stress. No matter how congenial and willing my participation is, it's going to -- say my wife is driving and a car comes close and I go like this.

And she says, I'm a good driver.

And I say, it's not your driving. It's not my mind that is telling me there's a problem. It's my brain.

GUPTA: Did you just call Tracy a bad driver?

FOX: No. Tracy is a good driver.



GUPTA: Now let's take a look at how this all started.


FOX: Every morning, as long I as can remember, I would wake up in the morning, I got somewhere to go, I got something to do, you know? What do I got to do tomorrow when the alarm goes off?

GUPTA (voice-over): It's hard to believe it's been more than a decade since Michael J. Fox left the soundstage of his hit TV series "Spin City" in a final curtain call.


GUPTA: Fox had first publicly disclosed his Parkinson's diagnosis two years early. But the long hours on set were catching up with him, exacerbating the symptoms of his disease.

FOX: The stress of doing the show is kind of an X-factor. It's going to be interesting to see that removed from the scenario and see what effect that has.

GUPTA: Fox's decision to step away from the cameras was a dramatic change for a man who practically grew up on screen, launching his television career in the early '70s in his native Canada.

Small film roles led Fox to Hollywood, and soon America came to know him as the young Republican Alex P. Keaton on the popular sitcom "Family Ties."


FOX: That selfishness saved my life. I knew it would come in handy.


GUPTA: At its peak, family ties drew in a third of American households every week. Fox's work on the series won him three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe.

It's also where Fox met his future wife, actress Tracy Pollan.


FOX: Sort of a compliment.



GUPTA: The couple has been married for 22 years. And they have four children.

Fox's TV success propelled him to movie stardom with the blockbuster trilogy "Back to the Future." Fox followed his role as Marty McFly with more than 20 films. But it was on the set of the movie "Doc Hollywood" where Fox first displayed symptoms of early Parkinson's disease, which eventually pushed him into a new role, that of advocate.

FOX: The war against Parkinson's is a winnable war. And I have resolved to play a role in that victory.

GUPTA: Fox works tirelessly in his quest for a cure for Parkinson's, fighting for funding, campaigning for politicians sympathetic to his cause.

His support for stem cell research and the quest for a Parkinson's cure has at times sparked controversy. Despite using his celebrity to point the spotlight in a different direction, Fox hasn't left Hollywood behind completely. With numerous guest appearances on TV series in recent year, Fox is still a familiar face. And a line from his final episode of "Spin City" still rings true.


FOX: It's going to be OK. I'm going to bounce back from this.


FOX: It's not over, right?

LOCKLEAR: A long way from over.



GUPTA: And coming up: the moment when Michael J. Fox learned his life was about to change forever.


GUPTA: This may sound like a silly question, but are they sure you have Parkinson's?




FOX: My natural state is pretty kinetic and (INAUDIBLE) and trembling, until I get to the point where I have no movement at all.

That's what my brain wants to do, because that's the condition that it's in. So, I don't fool myself. I take advantage of the time when I'm medicated. And I look at it as a gift and as an opportunity to make that time even wider by finding a more substantial treatment or cure.

With some people with Parkinson's, there's a cognitive element. And I sometimes get concerned about that when I have recall issues and stuff like that. My wife is quick to tell me I'm almost 50 years old, and that's why.

GUPTA: This may sound like a silly question, but are they sure you have Parkinson's?

FOX: I mean, yes, to an extent. But Parkinson's is this umbrella.

Parkinson isn't -- in many ways, I have textbook Parkinson's. In other ways, I have idiosyncratic aspects to my experience. For example, I'm still tremendously sensitive to L-dopa. And, over time, with a lot of patients, its efficacy wears off. It doesn't -- it isn't as...

GUPTA: You get a tolerance to it?

FOX: Yes, and also it comes with terrible dyskinesia, which I do experience, but not to the extent that I could. But you experience what you experience. You can't push it out to fill a box that someone else has created for it. And you can't shrink it to squeeze into a parenthetic notation that someone's made about it. It's your experience.

It's -- I'm pretty sure that I have Parkinson's. But what is Parkinson's?

GUPTA: And the medication is a precursor to dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter that is in short supply in that particular area of your brain.

FOX: Yes.

GUPTA: So, you're taking this pill.

FOX: Right.

There's a lot of titrating. There's a lot of -- there's no set -- it isn't like, for me, where I wake in the morning and I take two pills, and at 10:00, a bell goes off and I take two pills, and at 12:00, a bell goes off and I take two pills.

It's constant feeling out, titrating. And sometimes I will take a half-a-pill. Sometimes, I will take a quarter-of-a-pill. It all depends on what kind of cocktail I have brewing in my brain that day.


GUPTA: He explained to me that sometimes his mind may want to do one thing, but his brain sort of takes control, causing many of the symptoms you just heard him talk about.

Now, medically speaking, Parkinson's disease is actually pretty straightforward, when you think about it. What you have is a particular part of the brain that produces a chemical known as dopamine. It helps us with motor skills specifically, smooth muscle movements.

But the brain of someone with Parkinson's disease is not producing enough dopamine. Now, why that happens exactly is anyone's guess. But the disease does get progressively worse. And, as things stand right now, doctors can only treat the symptoms, typically, with a pill that looks like this.

It's calls levodopa. And it's the single most effective treatment to control symptoms. Let me give you a little bit of an idea of just exactly how this works.

Now, what you have here is the pill going into the bloodstream, and, subsequently, it goes to the brain, where it's converted into dopamine. But here's the problem. When the pill starts to wear off, the symptoms come back. Sometimes, they're even worse. And that all continues until the next pill is taken.

Eventually, you can develop a tolerance to this medication as well, though there is some help -- some progress really in trying to minimize that. It's sort of -- think of it like sort of a gel version of this particular medication.

It's called Duodopa. And what happens is, the drug gets released via a tube directly into the small intestine. And patients can monitor their levels, must in the same way that a diabetic does with insulin, and be alerted before the symptoms get too severe.

Now, this is currently in the clinical trial stage for approval in the United States, but already approved for use in 34 other countries.

Surgery is also an option for patients not responding well to medication. And the most common nowadays is something known as deep brain stimulation. And I want to give you just a little bit of an idea of how this works.

It blocks abnormal nerve signals that cause Parkinson's symptoms by implanting a battery-operated device about the size of a stopwatch and sending electrical stimulations, which essentially block the abnormal signals from ever reaching the brain.

Now, Michael J. Fox had an operation back in 1998. During his operation, which was called a thalamotomy, Michael was actually awake. He was actually talking to his surgeon.


FOX: So, he said, make my -- make your hand shake. And I tried to do and I couldn't. And I felt this disappointment that I couldn't give him what he wanted. Then, of course -- and I said, I can't. And he said, we're done.

And I was like, wow.

GUPTA: The operation was over because they accomplished the goal.

FOX: Yes, they accomplished the goal, which was really (INAUDIBLE) for me. So, it was just about cessation.

And I had a big tremor on my left side, fully on my left side, and nothing on my right. And so my whole life, working and stuff was about manipulating circumstances, so that I could pin that arm.

GUPTA: Put your hand in your pocket or...

FOX: Put my hand in your pocket or busy it or something, because that helped.

And -- but it just got too much. So, that's when I had the brain surgery. And then, of course, I had brain surgery, and it diminished the effects on my left side, but just true to the progression of the disease, within a few months, my right side started. So, and I made the decision not to have another brain surgery. But... GUPTA: I don't want to belabor the point, but if they said to you, look, it's not curative, but with stimulation, we can dial it up, dial it down with magnets and possibly really alleviate some of your symptoms, why not do that?



GUPTA: Michael J. Fox had surgery 12 years ago on the right side of his brain, which controls the left side of his body. The problem was the right side of his body slowly became worse after that. And it's progressed over the years.

He told me pretty candidly about his decision to avoid any more operations.


GUPTA: I don't want to belabor the point, but if they said to you, look, it's not curative, but with stimulation, we can dial it up, dial it down with magnets and possibly really alleviate some of your symptoms, why not do that?

FOX: I mean, it's just a personal thing. The

next time they go into my brain, I want it to be to get it done. I don't want it to be -- we were joking about the book "When the Air Hits Your Brain." The air already hit my brain too many times.

I want it to -- if there's something that they can do in there that will be curative or restorative or help progression in any kind of much more fundamental way than just a kind of mechanical stopgap, kind of a pacemaker, which is what they have now -- that's just my personal preference.

But it's been tremendous in people's lives. There are hundreds of people I have met, and certainly thousands have had the procedure deep brain stimulation, that it's been, you know, huge, the improvement. People that couldn't walk, people that had a hard time functioning, all of a sudden, have fluidity of movement, because it's kind of de-syncopated the firing in their brain.

GUPTA: The doctors, when they fiddle with your medications, they try different things, what is the -- is there an overall plan? Are they saying, Michael, look, we will just keep fiddling indefinitely here? Or are they saying, look, at some point, you know, we have got to take a next big step, or we think you need to do X? What do they tell you?

FOX: It's about getting -- being comfortable and being functioning, functional on a day-to-day basis. And that's really the thing. It's about my comfort.

And because we -- there is that big next thing. There's surgery, potentially, but, again, I'm weighing that. I tend to lean against it.

GUPTA: Because you don't want to do another surgery unless there's greater promise?

FOX: Well, it's brain surgery.

GUPTA: I'm a brain surgeon, so I...


FOX: Yes, brain surgeons love it.


FOX: But -- and, so, yes, actually, there's -- maybe something will come through the pipeline that changes the picture.

But, for now, I'm perfectly -- I can -- if I look back at the last 20 years, and you told me that this is where I would be 20 years from now, after my diagnosis, I would have taken this in a heartbeat.

I'm very happy with my life. I'm very happy with what I'm able to do and what I'm able to accomplish. It's not ideal, but it certainly beats a lot of other options.


GUPTA: You know, a few years ago, many people, including Michael, were hopeful that stem cells were going to be one of those options.


GUPTA: Why don't you talk about stem cells as much anymore?



GUPTA: Ten years ago, Michael J. Fox started the foundation that now has his name to find a cure for Parkinson's. The foundation is now embarking on a major research project. They're looking for biomarkers for Parkinson's.


GUPTA: It's interesting, because a biomarker is some sort of signal that the disease gives off, whether it's a protein or something in the body. It can serve a few different purposes.

Perhaps, like in the case of Alzheimer's, it can give some early clue that someone either has the disease, maybe doesn't have symptoms yet, or is going to develop the disease. But it may give you some more insight into the disease itself.

(CROSSTALK) FOX: It gives you a starting point.

If you want to track the progression of a disease in a patient, now you have to wait until he's symptomatic. But if you have a biomarker, you can track that from its earliest stages. You can say, what is going to be the trigger here that's going to -- not only the trigger that's going to eradicate symptoms or halt progression, but what's the trigger that caused it to start?

If we have -- you know, it's often said that, with Parkinson's, genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger. There's something -- why has no one in my family never had Parkinson's? It's not necessarily that we don't all have the genetic risk. It's that I ran into whatever that trigger was. And these are the things we want to learn about.

GUPTA: When they talk about some of the most potentially effective therapies -- and you have talked a lot about this -- stem cells is something that still comes up. Why don't you talk about stem cells as much anymore?

FOX: Well, it was an urgency of the moment, with that vote coming up in 2006.

I mean, the simple fact is that patients have the right to insist that federal funders and industry pursue anything that's likely to find an answer, to find a cure.

There are ethical questions. We went through them. We went through them for every side. Reasonable people disagreed. I happen to think that, in the case of eggs, embryos left over from in vitro fertilization, that they were going to be destroyed anyway. Why not help?

But that's another issue. I think that -- I think that just the basic idea of stem cell science, it's part of our portfolio. It's part of things we pursue, but it's by no means the majority of the avenues that we're going down now.

But to shut off any possible inroad to a cure or a breakthrough just seemed to me to make no sense, and especially when attached to a political agenda.

GUPTA: How important is Michael J. Fox to this? How important are you to this mission?

FOX: Well, I think, me, personally, I think I serve as head cheerleader. And perhaps I put a face on it for people that are experiencing it.

I don't want to underestimate that, because I know, when I first disclosed that I was dealing with this, I got an e-mail from a lady who was going into this local store. And she just assumed that the person behind the counter thought she was drunk, because she had erratic movements. And he kind of dealt with her brusquely.

And then she went in after I had kind of disclosed, and he was looking at her. And she said, I have Parkinson's.

And he said, oh, like Michael Fox.

So, I mean, that -- and that really touched me, I mean, because the -- talking about the patient experience, it can be a very lonely experience. And, so, if you feel like there's somebody who's getting up in the morning and is on it -- you know, because cures don't fall out of the sky.

They don't -- we have to go up and get them. And we just assume -- like, I think I always assumed there was a department of cures, that there was a minister of cures, a secretary of cures. But there isn't. It's us.


GUPTA: Such an important point, the secretary of cures he's talking about there.

So many unknowns to this disease, and how close are we to finding some of the answers?

Well, joining me now are two of the leaders in treating and research in Parkinson's disease. Dr. Walter Koroshetz, he's deputy director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and Dr. Bernard Ravina, associate chief of neurology at the University of Rochester. He's also a researcher with the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Thanks for joining us.



GUPTA: He's doing so well. You know, he really had a lot to say obviously. But he did point as well that there are so many unknowns. We don't know what causes this. The treatment for this hasn't changed a lot the last several years and at one point he says, you know, just diagnosing him at such a young age, they weren't even sure he had Parkinson's disease. Dr. Ravina, is that part of the reason that makes it so difficult to make progress here?

DR. BERNARD RAVINA, ASSOC. CHIEF OF NEUROLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER: It's true. There are multiple factors that may contribute to causing Parkinson's disease, and certainly in people who have early onset or young onset Parkinson's disease, it can be much more difficult to make a diagnosis because there are several other diseases that may be suspected or that you need to rule out first.

GUPTA: He has the disease. I guess there are other things that can sort of mimic it, especially when he has diagnosed. Had symptoms at 29. Was diagnosed at 30. Are there other things that this could be?

DR. WALTER KOROSHETZ, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF NEUROLOGIAL DISORDERS & STROKE: Well, I think there are a number of disorders that cause degeneration in the same brain areas, and they produce a very similar phenotype. The distinguishing features to Parkinson's disease, I think the one that is the most distinguishing is that the patients respond to the medications in the early stages, where many of the other diseases are not responsive. So this ability to respond to dopamine agonist is usually the cut point that makes you feel certain that someone has Parkinson's.

GUPTA: And he says he clearly responds to it, he clearly has benefit from taking the dopamine which is what is deficient in the brain in some of the Parkinson's.


GUPTA: He talked a fair amount and obviously the foundation very interested in biomarkers. First of all, tell us a little about what biomarkers are and why is it so important as we move forward?

RAVINA: Sure. Well, biomarkers are a characteristic or something that can measure that tells you about the underlying disease process. So not the symptoms, but what's causing the symptoms. A good example is being able to measure blood sugar in diabetes. It helps you make the diagnosis and it also helps figure out if people are responding to the treatment.

In Parkinson's disease, we really don't have biomarkers that tell us what the underlying disease is doing in the brain. And it's a little bit more challenging because the measures that we're interested in are in the brain. So it's not necessarily quite as simple as getting a blood test.

GUPTA: So there's something that might be that you can measure that tells you that someone, first of all, has Parkinson's, and a specific target for a medication as well?

KOROSHETZ: Right. Well, I think that's really the key. In my mind, the biomarker significance is a measure that you can target with a drug or therapy that increases the probability that you're going to respond to that therapy.

GUPTA: Five-year study, $40 million, several countries around the world?

RAVINA: That's right. This is one of the first large-scale international efforts to develop biomarkers that will tell us about the progression of Parkinson's.

GUPTA: Right.

RAVINA: And as Walter was saying, exactly the point, the goal here is to be able to use these biomarkers to help develop drugs that will slow the progression. So if we can use them to get a read --

GUPTA: Right.

RAVINA: -- on whether or not the drugs are really hitting that process, we can really move that process along more quickly. GUPTA: A couple of things, we only have a little bit of time left. But stem cells was something that Michael J. Fox used to talk a lot about. He doesn't talk as much about it. Why not? Is there less promise? There was a lot of enthusiasm, Dr. Ravina.

RAVINA: I don't know that there's less promise. Certainly it's a controversial issue. But what I think what's key in Parkinson's is that we pursue multiple different avenues to treatments. Stem cells may work, but there are also other ways that we can go about addressing the progression.

KOROSHETZ: I think the key thing to know is that the genetics has really opened the door because it isolated a defect in a protein called synuclein in a particular family that got Parkinson's. And that opened the door because what we found after that was that everyone with Parkinson's has this synuclein problem. And it occurs in the brain and in the nerves way before you get the symptoms. So now, we know kind of what we might be able to go after to get the treatment.

GUPTA: A little forerunner --


GUPTA: -- gives you a little prediction. I think we can all agree on this. I mean, he is the eternal optimist.


GUPTA: I mean, and always looking up.


GUPTA: He does call himself an eternal optimist. When we return, he's going to explain why he also calls Parkinson's disease a gift. Stay with us.


GUPTA: Michael J. Fox calls himself an incurable optimist. And he called Parkinson's a gift. A gift that keeps on taking, as he put it. Not surprising. He was skeptical when doctors told him the tremors that began when he was just 29 years old were signs of Parkinson's. It's a disease that typically strikes people after the age of 50.


GUPTA: Did you believe them when they told you?

MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: No, I thought they were crazy. I felt bad for the doctors afterward because I was -- yes, I was too funny now, but I was indignant. I was like, no, you made a mistake. Not only because I was young, but because my life had been so charmed to that point, that I thought, this has to be some kind of error. But as I pursued second opinions and third opinions and it became clear that was the situation.

GUPTA: Do you remember what you told, you told the doctor? Was the doctor shocked that you went to other doctors? Or what did he do?

FOX: Yes, I did. I went -- I saw the original doctor, the diagnosing doctor. And then I saw a couple other prominent, you know, neurologists. I mean, they weren't as -- it wasn't the kind of movement disorder specialty that there is now. There's certainly people that focused on Parkinson's, not in the way they do now. But I saw them. And I finally ended up with the big (INAUDIBLE). I won't mention his name but he was quite an esteemed neurologist. And he was very brusque. He was insistent when I first came in. No, you're too young. No. And I thought, oh, this is good. And this guy is a little grumpy, but we may get to the truth here. And then -- and then sure enough, he finished his examination and said, no, you have Parkinson's.

GUPTA: I have so many patients I see in the office and, you know, sometimes, I tell them news that's not great. And one thing they understandably ask is why me? And obviously, there's not an answer to that question. But did you ever ask yourself why you were --

FOX: No, I went to, it's not me. My first response was, it was a mistake as we talked about earlier.

GUPTA: The doctors made a mistake.

FOX: No, I didn't -- I didn't get there. I did go through a long period of kind of denial about it and hiding it and wondering what was going to happen. How fast it was going to happen. But there was a clear period around 1993-'94, two years after the diagnosis where I just got it. I just accepted it. And I realized that there's a real saying that my happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance and in direct proportion to my expectation. You know, it's just about it. This is what it is. And so now what?

GUPTA: So once you were not in denial, you think you were happier?

FOX: Yes, absolutely. Because when you can look at the truth of something, then I mean, that's what it is. It is what it is. Now, you have options. The only thing I don't have a choice about is whether I have Parkinson's. Everything else is my choice. And that's incredibly liberating. That's much more liberating than the physical (INAUDIBLE) of this disease are limiting.

GUPTA: Are there things that you particularly miss that you can't do? I mean, things that you say, God, I really just wish I could do this still?

FOX: No.

GUPTA: You did everything.

FOX: I did everything I did before. Yes, I know. I play hockey. I play golf. I play guitar with my kids. I mean, if it seriously limited or restricted or adversely affected my ability to react with my kids, I think that would be something that would be hard to deal with.

I go back to my reasons for starting this foundation. If you -- I use this analogy a lot but it's really apt. If you step off a curb and get hit by a bus, the impact in your life is immediate and catastrophic. And you have no options. You just -- it's the effect of whatever happens there. With Parkinson's, it's like, you're crossing the road and you get stuck in the middle. And you know the bus is coming. And you can't get out of the way. So you can kind of freak out and you go, oh, that bus is going to hit me at some point, even though you don't know how fast or how big or where. But you can be stuck in that result that this bus is going to hit you. Or you can use the time you have before the bus gets there to try to change the route. And that's what we try to do. You know, methodically, but with a degree of urgency, try to connect the dots. And get this done.


GUPTA: And coming up, why Michael J. Fox has thrown vanity right out the window.



MICHAEL J. FOX: Whoa! Oh. It was great. Everything was great!


GUPTA: That was Michael J. Fox, obviously in "Back to the Future" shot 25 years ago. You can believe it? There's still no time travel. There's no flying DeLoreans and there's no cure for Parkinson's.


FOX: You know, vanity goes out the window very early. Once you kind of accept this and you decide to move forward with it and react positively, you start to realize it doesn't matter what you look like. It matters what you can get done, what you can do.

GUPTA: But the teenage girls all across the world had your pictures up on their walls.

FOX: Yes, that's right. Now I got teenage daughters with pictures of guys at their walls.

GUPTA: Vanity goes out the window. I mean, what you mean by that is that this isn't about how you look, it's about trying to move the mission forward?

FOX: Right, exactly. And I'm really excited about it. I mean, again, with the foundation, in 10 years we've been able to fund somewhere near $200 million. GUPTA: That's an incredible number, $200 million. And I've seen the funding budgets at large organizations including the National Institutes of Health. $200 million can get things done.

FOX: Yes, we were definitely having an impact. And when I came into this, I obviously had the pain and lack of experience in these kinds of things so I can make broad-sweeping pronouncements and/or objectives and then kind of go back and go in and hopefully they'll be carried out, and they were. Like, I didn't want this to be a bank. I didn't want to start to have an endowment. I wanted the money to come in and go out. I wanted to speed up research and have an option for researchers who were on to something, whether it was a big question or just a little question like how to solve the next bigger question. But get them funding as quickly as possible. And we were able to do that. And then it expanded into other new areas of philanthropic research. And it's been an amazing experience.

GUPTA: You described your life as being front-loaded, meaning you accomplished a lot of things very early in life. And I read your books. You are so optimistic. And it's not to say that you shouldn't be. But is there a lesson there for other people? What keeps you so optimistic?

FOX: It's like being in the moment. It's just like there's no more important moment than right now. And I think, you know, I say to my wife sometimes, if you get caught up in the worst case scenario and it doesn't happen, you've wasted your time. And if you are caught up in the worst case scenario and it does happen, you've lived it twice. You know, there's no -- to be prepared and to informed and to know what the future may bring, but it's also important to celebrate right now what you can do right now.


GUPTA: And coming up, Michael J. FOX tells us what he sees in his future and also the future of his foundation.



MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: What do you see? An actor? An athlete? How about two people who share a common illness, no different than the millions of others with Parkinson's disease. Look again, you'll see two people who won't stop fighting until there's a cure.

MUHAMMAD ALI, BOXING CHAMPION: I'm still bad. I think I'll make a comeback.


GUPTA: Now, when Muhammad Ali hit you, did that hurt?

MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: No. What hurt was we did a promo. And I said -- he said how tall he was. And then I said I'm 5'1." And he said -- 5 foot. There's a (INAUDIBLE). GUPTA: What did they say is the progression for you of Parkinson's?

FOX: It's the same. I mean, my doctor says there is no predictable path. Again, I could be looking for milestones. On some course, that I'm projected to go down. I could miss milestones that are coming on another path. It really is a day-to-day thing. So there's no point knowing of the journey where you get to a place that triggers these options -- these continued disease. It really isn't like that.

GUPTA: I mean, you don't have the morose, more morose conversations about lifespan or --

FOX: I have more morose conversations than anybody about anything.

GUPTA: Probably a good thing.

FOX: Yes.

GUPTA: Always looking up.

FOX: Always looking up, absolutely. If you got mice, you don't have rats. Someone told me that. If you have mice, you don't have rats. Because the rats would kill the mice. So if you have mice, that's a good sign.

When I'm occupied, a lot of times I can do things. There are times when I can't. But it's -- I go on the -- I go on the -- I golf. I'm a terrible golfer. And I started golfing in my 40s with Parkinson's. If that isn't optimism, I don't know what is. But I just do what I want to do. And I just work with what I show up with that day. And -- but that's me. And again, I'm very lucky in a lot of ways.

GUPTA: What's the legacy of the foundation going to be?

FOX: Well hopefully, we'll accomplish our mission and in some way, facilitate a solution to this puzzle. You know, it's completely soluble. You know, we look at the things we've done, we've accomplished as a species, it really seems doable. It's just a matter those of us who are affected by it and concerned about it do what we can, whether it's clinical trials, whether it's supporting our foundation or other foundations, or politically or whatever. But just know that you have an impact on the course (INAUDIBLE). And if you insist on something, and you're willing to give what you need to give in order to make it happen, you know, it's doable. It's accomplishable.


GUPTA: You know, I spent over an hour and a half with Michael, and I can tell you that optimism you just heard, it's infectious. And after the break, we'll tell you how you can join the fight. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: We know you're a big athlete and runner. So did you run the marathon, I urge you to run for Team Fox.


GUPTA: You can see Michael was recruiting me there to join Team Fox. He's pretty persuasive. You know, he joins athletes all around the country, cheering them on for helping him find a cure to Parkinson's disease.

A lot of information was discussed this hour. We want to put it all in one place for you to make it as easy as possible to get involved. Go to Find links to learn more about Parkinson's. Sign up for the latest clinical trials or simply make a donation.

Thanks for joining me tonight. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. More news on CNN starts right now.