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A Heroic Life
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A Heroic Life

Michael J. Fox’s recent Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award win reminds us of what being a hero truly means.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 19: Michael J. Fox accepts the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award during the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 13th Governors Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza on November 19, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Michael J. Fox needed his wife to carry the trophy after his 12-minute speech in acceptance of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award on November 19. Advanced Parkinson’s makes such activities impossible. “I definitely can’t walk and carry this thing,” the actor and philanthropist said, “so I ask Tracy to once again carry the weight.” 

The award, an honorary Oscar, is presented to individuals from the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry. Nobody else in Hollywood could be more deserving, as Fox has established himself as one of the greatest heroes modern cinema has produced. 

Fox flew to television stardom after his take as the Richard Nixon-loving Alex P. Keaton quickly won over audiences’ hearts on the early ‘80s hit sitcom Family Ties. Then came film stardom in the hugely successful Back to the Future trilogy, Teen Wolf, and The Secret of My Success. But in 1991, at age 29 and at the apex of his career, Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Doctors told Fox his career would be over in 10 years. But he worked for another 30 before announcing his retirement in 2020 and his resilience while facing a brutal disease is an inspiration to anyone who cares to learn of this man’s story. With Michael J. Fox, however, there is more. 

In 2000, Fox established the Michael J. Fox Foundation For Parkinson’s Research. The foundation’s stated goal is to “put itself out of business” by finding the cure for Parkinson’s. Fox and his colleagues have done yeoman’s work in the effort. Raising over $1.5 billion in the last 20 years, the foundation is the largest non-profit funder of Parkinson’s drug development, leading to research resulting in more than 20 early-stage therapeutic programs. The foundation developed the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative, which gathers data from those diagnosed with Parkinson’s or with certain Parkinson’s risk factors to learn more about the brain and how to prevent brain disease.

As a public advocate, he has used his medical diagnosis to better the lives of many who currently contend with the disease and others who will one day. But what separates Fox from others who have engaged in similar life-changing work is how Fox has lived his own life. After all, many bad people have done good things through charities—Bill Cosby and Lance Armstrong come to mind. But Fox has modeled goodness in his personal life as well. He has been successfully married to his wife for 34 years and raised four children who have avoided the scandal that often comes with having famous parents.

As Fox concluded his inspirational remarks and called for the assistance of his wife, the camera panned to his children, Sam (age 33), twin daughters Aquinnah Kathleen and Schulyer Frances (27), and Esme Annabelle (21), who all looked on with pride.

Committing a heroic act can be hard work. It can change someone else’s life or cost you your own. But heroic acts don’t automatically make you a hero. Being a hero means making the best of the opportunities before you and committing to the values and principles that led you to do the right thing in the first place. Being a hero is doing what you can to make things better for someone else—every day. Being a hero is in the long game.