Family Ties was one of those shows that audiences loved. It had a little bit of everything. The young ex-hippie parents who were constantly at odds with their hard nosed Republican child, their materialistic daughter and their “tomboy” girl who just wants to be a normal kid. The show was on the air for seven years and won multiple Emmies and prestigious honors. By season 4, a young Michael J. Fox was television’s reigning “it” actor. The former Army brat who dropped out of high school to pursue an acting career had already starred as Marty McFly in the wildly successful Back to the Future series and his following on Family Ties was growing more and more. This fourth season saw his character, Alex P. Keaton, in a relationship with a feminist artist named Ellen Reed, portrayed by a young actress named Tracy Pollan. Pollan and Fox’s on-screen romance didn’t quite develop then because the actress was dating another guy at the time of the show.
But Fox later said of Tracy, “The next spring I was casting a movie in New York, and I saw Tracy, who had come in to read for a part. I said, “How’s so-and-so?” She said, “We’re not together anymore.” I was like, “(a) You have the job and (b) let’s have lunch.” By the time the movie was finished, we were on vacation together—and less than a year later we were married.
Fox’s life was bigger and better than he could have ever imagined it would be. He was in his prime with a wonderful wife, devoted fans, a Porsche and a Ferrari and a Range Rover. He needed a valet to get the cars out of his garage. He was the Boy Prince of Hollywood. However, not everything stays perfect forever, even in tinsel town.
Fox developed a twitch in his pinky that wouldn’t go away. Within six months the twitch had spread to his entire hand, then his shoulder began to stiffen. But he and Pollan kept his illness a secret for fear of its effect on his career. It was at this point that Fox and Pollan had their first of four children together. A few years later she gave birth to twins, Aquinnah and Schuyler, and he took the starring role in the ABC sitcom Spin City .
Finally, in the December 7, 1998, issue of People , Fox announced the news he feared would shatter his career as a funnyman: He had Parkinson’s and had undergone brain surgery to alleviate the tremors.
Fox’s career worries were unfounded. If anything, his announcement strengthened the public’s support of the man they’d come to know as Spin City‘s deputy mayor—a portrayal for which he won three Golden Globe Awards, an Emmy, and a People’s Choice Award. But as much as he loved the show, by January 2000, Fox, then 38, felt an even bigger calling: to use his time and energy to work toward a cure for Parkinson’s. After appearing in 100 episodes of Spin City, he said goodbye to his cast and fans and stepped into his role as founder of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
Audiences’ love for Fox never vanished, nor did the admiration and respect Tracyreceived for her devotion to her ailing husband.
Pollan was a fresh-faced beauty, born in NYC. She studied acting at the Lee Strasburg Institute and while her television and film career never quite grew to the size of her husband’s, she has always been a “family-first” kind of person and had no problem pausing her career to tend to her husband.
“My family absolutely comes first, and I don’t mean that in a Pollyanna way. It’s the focus of my life because it’s what makes me happy.”—Tracy Pollan
Through it all, they loved each other. Fox was well aware that Tracy was there for the long run. There were a lot of questions he was afraid to ask her, like: “Does it scare you that I’m sick? Do you not love me because I’m sick?” Her response was “Any time I would say to myself, “This isn’t what I bought into,” it wasn’t about Michael being sick. It was about his doubting and the behavior that came out of that fear.
“Any marriage has its ups and downs. It’s work to be married for this many years! That said, Michael’s a very easy person to be with under his circumstances, funny and gracious. He’s not egocentric at all; he’s very much about the person he’s with. When I see how much hope he gives people who have Parkinson’s or other illnesses—it’s unbelievable.” –Tracy Pollan
The two managed to make an incredibly difficult and tragic circumstance turn into something positive and inspirational for thousands of people. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research purpose is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease through an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensure the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson’s today. In 2012, the Foundation received financial donations from 60,000 donors and was able to award more than $56 million in grants to accelerate high-impact Parkinson’s research.
To top this all off, Michael J. Fox is working again. He just began a new show called, The Michael J. Fox Show, that is loosely based on his life. Even Tracy is slated to make a guest star appearance in an upcoming episode. The show highlights the humor that can be found in the disease, rather than the fear that most expect to come with it.
Fox and Pollan, with their own Family Ties, have settled nicely into their roles as husband, father, mother and wife. Their four children have become their whole world. The disease that could have destroyed their marriage has, in fact, made it stronger. It gave them a bond that can not be broken and has given them the strength to work together to cure Parkinson’s.
“When you meet the person you want to spend your life with, you realize you’d step in front of a train for her—that’s love. Then when you have a baby, you say, “I’d step in front of a train right now—and I don’t even know you!”—Michael J. Fox