Michael J. Fox Reveals Memory Struggles That Limit His Ability to Act

Michael J. Fox is opening up about how his decades-long battle with Parkinson's disease has affected his career as an actor and memorization capabilities. In a new interview with PEOPLE, the Family Ties star said that 22 years after he came forward with his diagnosis in 1998, the disease has taken a toll on his ability to continue acting beyond the more obvious symptoms of tremors and rigidity.

"My short-term memory is shot," Fox, 59, told the magazine. "I always had a real proficiency for lines and memorization. And I had some extreme situations where the last couple of jobs I did were actually really word-heavy parts. I struggled during both of them."

Having appeared on The Good Wife and Spin City following his diagnosis, Fox has definitely been able to continue his career. Still, now the actor said he practices shouting tongue twisters to improve his projection and diction. While memorization and speaking clearly has become more difficult over the years, the actor has been diving into writing. His fourth memoir, No Time Like the Future, debuts Nov. 17.

"I’m down to this," he says of writing, becoming the main creative outlet in his life. "My guitar playing is no good. My sketching is no good anymore, my dancing never was good, and acting is getting tougher to do. So it’s down to writing. Luckily, I really enjoy it."

Fox said he has developed a lot of inner strength amid his health problems, which also included a noncancerous tumor on his spine that was growing rapidly and causing pain throughout his body before being removed in 2018. Following the operation, Fox had to learn to walk again, and a bad fall during the process "was definitely my darkest moment."

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During his recovery, Fox said he learned "optimism is really rooted in gratitude." He explained, "Optimism is sustainable when you keep coming back to gratitude, and what follows from that is acceptance." He adds that once you can accept something that has happened, it doesn't mean there are limits. "It doesn't mean that you can’t endeavor to change," he said. "It doesn't mean you have to accept it as a punishment or a penance, but just put it in its proper place. Then see how much the rest of your life you have to thrive in, and then you can move on."

Currently, he is making the most of his time with wife Tracy Pollan and their kids, son Sam, 31, twin daughters Aquinnah and Schuyler, both 25, and daughter Esmé, 19. As for a return to acting, Fox is unsure. Regardless, he is keeping a bright outlook. "So the last couple of years have been trickier than most," he said. "But I have things that I've been blessed with that are just incredible. Life is rich. Life is good."