Michael J. Fox Reveals the Tricks He Used To Hide Parkinson's Diagnosis in New Doc

He didn't go public with his heartbreaking condition for seven years.

Michael J. Fox has spoken extensively about his struggle with Parkinson's disease since going public with his diagnosis in 1998—but in a new documentary, he opens up about the seven years before that, which he spent trying to hide his symptoms.

In Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie—which premiered Jan. 20 at the Sundance Film Festival and is set to be released by Apple TV+ later this year—the Back to the Future star says he tried a number of things to keep people from finding out about his condition.

Read on to find out how Fox dealt with the devastating diagnosis before revealing it.

READ THIS NEXT: Michael J. Fox Says Having Parkinson's Is "Nothing" Compared to This.

Alcohol was one of Fox's initial coping mechanisms.

Michael J. Fox at the premiere of "Very Ralph" in October 2019
Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

The new film, which was directed by Oscar-winner Davis Guggenheim (who won for An Inconvenient Truth in 2007), sheds light on the years Fox, now 61, spent trying to deal with his diagnosis before coming forward about it. "There [were] times when I went, 'There's no way out of this,'" he says in the doc.

Fox continued to work throughout that time, co-starring in movies like The American President (1995) and Mars Attacks! (1996), and leading the ensemble cast of Spin City, which ran on ABC from 1996 to 2002. (Fox eventually left the show, and was replaced by Charlie Sheen.)

"I didn't know what was happening. I didn't know what was coming," Fox says about his alcohol use. "So what if I could just have four glasses of wine and maybe a shot?"

Fox says he was a "virtuoso" when it came to his drug use.

Michael J. Fox
Paul Smith / FeatureFlash / Alamy Stock Photo

"I became a virtuoso of manipulating drug intake so that I'd peak at exactly the right time and place," he says in the doc, regarding his use of dopamine pills, which can help to lessen the tremors and stiffness associated with the degenerative brain disorder. Fox says he took the medication "like Halloween Smarties."

Although taking dopamine-stimulating drugs "won't prevent or stop the progression of Parkinson's disease, it might help stave off early symptoms of the disorder," Healthline explains.

"Therapeutic value, comfort—none of these were the reason I took these pills," he admits. "There was only one reason: to hide."

He tried other tricks to keep his condition under wraps.

Actor Michael J. Fox attends the CSA 29th Annual Artios Awards ceremony at the XL Nightclub on November 18, 2013 in New York City.
Debby Wong / Shutterstock

During the years immediately following his diagnosis, Fox says he buried himself in work, and traveled as much as he could.

"You can't pretend at home that you don't have Parkinson's because you're just there with it," he shares in the doc. "If I'm out in the world, I'm dealing with other people and they don't know I have it."

When he was on set, he held props whenever possible, in an attempt to mask his shaking hands, he also reveals in the documentary.

For more health news sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Fox has now been sober for 30 years.

Michael J. Fox and wife Tracy Pollan
Everett Collection / Shutterstock

In a 2022 episode of comedian Mike Birbiglia's podcast Working It Out, Fox called the years between his Parkinson's diagnosis and the decision to go public "a long trip through the desert." And in 2018, he told People that it was the words of his wife, Tracy Pollan, that prompted him to get sober in 1992.

Finding him passed out on the couch at home following a bender, beer spilled on the floor, she asked, "This is what you want to be?" before walking out of the room.

"I was definitely an alcoholic. But I've gone 30 years without having a drink," he says in the new documentary. "Some people would view the news of my disease as an ending. [But] it was really a beginning."

In 2000, Fox started the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which helps fund Parkinson's research and advocate for patients.

Elizabeth Laura Nelson
Elizabeth Laura Nelson is the Deputy Health Editor at Best Life. A mom and a marathon runner, she’s passionate about all aspects of health and wellness. Read more
Filed Under