Michael J. Fox on Staying Positive After Losing His Mother: ‘She’d Never Add Up the Losses’

The actor speaks about his mother, Phyllis, who died in September at 92.

Throughout his three-decade battle with Parkinson’s disease, Michael J. Fox has notably embraced the power of positivity. It’s a habit he acquired from his mother, Phyllis, who passed away in September at 92.

“There was no more revered woman,” Fox, 61, said of his mother, who lived a long and meaningful life. “She was a nice woman. You had faith that you would be treated fairly. And she loved to laugh—she laughed constantly.”

When he told Phyllis he had Parkinson’s disease at the age of 29, she was concerned.

“I was still working in television and film and starting a family when I started the foundation,” Fox, who married actress Tracy Pollan in 1988, adds. Their son Sam, now 33, was born in 1989, and in 1995, the couple welcomed twin daughters Aquinnah and Schuyler — now 27 — and their youngest, Esmé, 21.

“When she asked how I accomplished it, I told her, ‘I just walk forward.’” I’m not interested in looking back or regretting something won’t happen. My mother felt the same way. She’d never add up the losses. She’d think about the advantages.”

Fox credits his resilience lessons to his mother and father, William, who died in 1990. As military kids (William served in the Canadian services for 25 years), Fox and his four siblings looked out for one another, and Phyllis was the glue that held the family together.

“Army wives are masters of adaptation,” he says. “They just know how to deal with a new situation, get the house in order, get the schools set up, and acquire a job on the side — since military pay is nothing. We didn’t get it as youngsters. Now I get what you mean.”

The actor, who has collected more than $1.5 billion for Parkinson’s research through the Michael J. Fox Foundation, admits that a fractured hand, shoulder, right arm, and elbow took a toll on his optimism over the last year.

But he’s optimistic today, “rocking and rolling” as his recovery comes to a close. “I’m just getting to the point where the last of my injuries are healing; my arm feels fantastic,” he says. “Life is enthralling. This is exactly what you get.”

Fox recalls a maxim he wrote while recovering from a risky spinal cord operation to remove a tumor on his spine in 2018.

“If I can find thanksgiving in anything I do and in any situation I’m in, if I can find one little thing to be glad for, it turns the whole situation around and allows for the possibility of grace, of something beautiful happening,” says the actor. “I’m just getting back into the swing of things, so it’s quite good.”