Michael J. Fox received an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards in Los Angeles on Saturday. When he took the podium to accept the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his philanthropic work, he revealed that he kept his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease a secret for years.
The 61-year-old man was first diagnosed with the degenerative brain condition in 1991 when he was 29, according to People. He recalled Saturday that he went into “seven years of denial” and “tried to make sense of it all,” only to have his illness spurred new purpose.
“I told very few people and they kept my secret,” Fox said during his speech.
“Then there were all kinds of doctors who helped me understand the physical processes that were working, or not, in my brain, as the case may be,” he continued. “Finally, I felt like I needed to tell everyone. I understood that it would have a great impact on my career.”
“What happened next was remarkable,” Fox added. “The outpouring of support from the general public, the beautiful reaction from all my peers in the entertainment business, all of you, thank you and the people I worked with, it was transformative. ”.
Fox was honored at the 13th annual ceremony along with directors Euzhan Palcy and Peter Weir and composer Diane Warren, who received standing ovations.
Fox recalled how “shitty” it was said that there were only 10 years left before the disorder would take hold.
“That’s what happened,” he said. “The hardest part of my diagnosis was dealing with the certainty of the diagnosis and the uncertainty of the situation. I just knew it would get worse. The diagnosis was definitive, the progress was indefinite and uncertain”.
Parkinson’s may first reveal itself with a simple tremor of the hand, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, the disorder slowly takes over the entire nervous system and can cause muscle stiffness, slurred speech, uncontrolled body movements, and rhythmic tremors.
However, Fox said that “it really has been a gift”, recalling that his wife, Tracy Pollan, promised to support him. He focused on learning about the disorder, researching any and all available studies, and finding that “the science was ahead of the money.”
“The answers could be unlocked with the right investments,” Fox said during his speech.
Fox launched the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in 2000 in hopes of finding a cure. He revealed that he initially wanted to call the organization “PD Cure”, only to have his wife hilariously inform him that this sounded too much like “Pedicure”.
“Then I reached out to the Parkinson’s community itself,” Fox said. “Patients, families and doctors, leading scientists in the field. And I realized that everything that had been given to me, the success, my life with Tracy, my family, had prepared me for this great opportunity and responsibility.
Since then, Fox’s foundation has raised more than $1.5 billion, according to its website.