I ended up reading Lucky Man, Michael J. Fox’s memoir, because my boyfriend (an early 80s baby and mega-fan of Back to the Future and Teen Wolf) kept telling me it was good. I was sceptical and when I read the first portion of the book I remained unconvinced. To me, Michael J. Fox was pretty much just the short guy from Spin City and I found it hard to dredge up much enthusiasm for stories of how he grew up (in a big military family with a supposedly psychic aunt who predicted his adult success) and where (in Canada).
I found it hard to warm to the man whose story seemed to be that everything, and I mean everything, came easy to him. He was cute, charming, smart, musical and everyone who ever met him seemed to think he was just wonderful. It all seemed pretty two-dimensional….until his whole world came crashing down when he, at the peak of his teen-idol success, was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease.
It is Fox’s own view that his disease was the making of him as a man (hence the seemingly incongruous title of his book) and it’s certainly the making of his memoir. I’m sure relatively few people can relate to his story of coming to America and finding almost immediate acting success, just as very few will be able to relate (on an experiential level) with his battle with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 30 – but where the first is a story of given talent, carelessly spent, the second is the story of what is written in the human soul when all pretence has been stripped away.
At that point I realised why Fox didn’t bother with any false modesty in the part of the book that dealt with his rise to fame – he wanted the reader to truly understand how difficult it was to come to terms with a diagnosis like Parkinson’s when it was more or less the first thing in his life not togo his way. A fascinating account of how a person who is not equipped to cope with disaster learned to face real hardship, Lucky Man is by no means a depressing read. In fact, it’s quite inspiring.
In the closing pages of the book, Fox says, “I couldn’t be this still until I could no longer keep still”, and it is this concept that made the memoir so fascinating to me. What is the point of a man having everything if he doesn’t know how to appreciate it? And what does it matter what a man lacks if he’s content with what he has?
I’m not suggesting that Fox enjoys the increasingly crippling physical limitations of Parkinson’s (which the book does not shy away from describing in sometimes quite excruciating terms) but I believe him when he says his illness has helped him on a road to inner peace that he never would have otherwise walked. I suppose that’s why he says on the back of the Lucky Man jacket that if you offered him a a world “in which the ten years since my diagnosis could be magically taken away, traded in for ten more years as the person I was before, I would, without a moment’s hesitation, tell you to take a hike.” However good our luck is and however much we are blessed with, our lives still only reflect our state of mind – that’s a great leveller, when you think about it.