Michael J. Fox Says He Was a "Jerk" as a Teen Star: "You Just Want to Slap Me."
The actor says there is evidence of his ego in his new documentary, Still.
Within the span of a few years, Michael J. Fox went from a high school dropout to one of the biggest TV stars of all time. So, while he's known for his perseverance and optimism today—thanks to his battle with Parkinson's disease and his fight to find a cure for others—when he was a young star, he had a bit of an ego. In fact, Fox even calls himself a "jerk" in a new interview looking back on his teen acting career.
The 61-year-old actor is the subject of the documentary Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, which premieres May 12. In an interview with Variety, Fox points to a footage in the film from his time on the '80s sitcom Family Ties as evidence that he was not fun to be around as a young star. His TV mom, Meredith Baxter, also commented on his behavior as a newly famous celebrity.
Read on to learn more about Fox's '80s TV career, and whether his co-stars thought he was a jerk, too.
He was very confident.
In the Variety interview, Fox talks about dropping out of school and moving from Canada to Los Angeles to become an actor after appearing on some Canadian TV shows. He recalls feeling certainty that an acting career was going to work out for him, because he was just that confident in himself.
"I knew I was more talented than a lot of people," he said. "And I knew that if I wanted to be someone, I couldn't just sit on my parents' porch and think, 'Boy, if I was only born in the States and my parents had money and weren't living paycheck to paycheck, I could do something with my life.'"
In 1980, he appeared in his first movie, Midnight Madness, and he says he knew then that his career was going to take off.
"I was sitting around with all these actors, and I remember thinking, 'Why is this going to work for me and not for them?'" he recalled. "It's not that I wished them unhappiness or bad luck—I wished them all the success in the world. But I knew I was going to make it. God knows why. I was living on the margins. I was 18 years old, with no money, no connections, literally dumpster diving for food."
His career did take off—quickly.
Two years after Midnight Madness, Fox began starring as Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties, which went on to air seven seasons. During this time, he also starred in Back to the Future and Teen Wolf, which were both released in 1985 when Fox was 24.
"I was a jerk," Fox told Variety of this time period. He pointed to a scene in Still in which he talks to the Family Ties writers about their script and asks to redo a scene as evidence.
"You just want to slap me," he added. "You just want to go, 'Shut up, sit down, have a Diet Coke and relax and sit in the corner.'"
His TV mom didn't think he was so bad.
Baxter, who played the mother of the family, Elyse, on Family Ties, told Variety that she didn't think Fox was such a jerk, but she understood why he would behave the way he did.
"I don't think he lorded it over us," she said. "At the same time, when someone gets all that attention and all that heat, it's hard for it not to go to their head. You can't fault where that adulation takes you. But if you stay there, then you become insufferable."
Fox didn't "stay there".
Fox credits a couple things with the growth he has had since Family Ties. First, he began a relationship with Tracy Pollan, who got him to change his ways during a time that he was also drinking heavily. They went on to marry in 1988 and are still together today.
"I mean, it was silly. I was a cliche cartoon of a 25-year-old with success in Hollywood," Fox told Fresh Air in 2020. "I had a Ferrari. I had a house in Laurel Canyon. I had all of the trappings. And then I met Tracy, who convinced me that it was all going to be the end of me, and I should calm down. And so I calmed down my behaviors, but I still drank."
Two years after they got married, Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. "I had no way to cope with it. So I just doubled down on my drinking," he said. The drinking, he explained, took more of a toll on his marriage than his diagnosis.
"She came upon me one morning lying on the couch, sleeping off a hangover with a spilled beer on the carpet beside me and my son crawling all over me," Fox recalled. "And she was on her way to the theater. She had a play to do, a matinee. And she just looked at me and said, is this what you want? The boredom in her voice shocked me and scared me more than anger would've. And I immediately knew that moment had changed my life."
Fox has now been sober for 30 years.
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He referred to himself as "'80s famous."
In a March interview about the documentary with Entertainment Weekly, Fox also reflected on his days as a young star, including doing risky things like driving a Lamborghini 90 miles per hour.
"I was into life in a dangerous way. Into life in a way that wanted all the good stuff out of life but didn't want to pay the respect that life needed to transact one's way through it," he said.
Fox referred to his celebrity as "'80s famous," and explained, "That was just an interesting thing somebody said. We were talking about the '80s, and they said, 'Well, yeah. You were "80s famous.'"
He continued, "I started to think about it, and I thought it was a particular crucible that existed then that doesn't exist now. I never sat down to try to figure it out with pen and paper or anything, but it was a different time. You wanted to stand in a big old bar and lead your troops. Wanted to go crazy."