Michael J. Fox, “Incurable Optimist,” Draws Crowd at UConn

Although the doors to UConn's Jorgenson Center did not open until 6 p.m., the line to hear actor Michael J. Fox stretched around the block by 5 p.m. on Wednesday night.

When Fox took the stage at 7 p.m., the room was full and he was greeted by a standing ovation.

The popular television and film star spoke for about 45 minutes, relating details of his life in chronological order from his early childhood and work as a struggling actor to his rise to Hollywood super-stardom, to his much-publicized battle with Parkinson's Disease.

He also spoke candidly about his family.

"When you were in trouble, my father was the first guy you called, and the last guy you wanted to talk to," Fox said, drawing a big laugh.

His father ultimately supported him when Fox first revealed his aspirations of being an actor.

"If you're going to be a lumberjack, may as well head out to the forest," Fox's father told him as he drove his teenage son from their home in Canada to Los Angeles.

Through the early portion of Fox's lecture, the audience laughed and the actor, himself, seemed to revel in relating stories of how he won his first regular part on TV at the age of 16 playing a 12-year old, and landing his first starring role as Alex P. Keaton on the now-classic sitcom, "Family Ties."

"From there, I went on to land the role of Marty McFly in ‘Back to the Future,'" said Fox, "and nothing would ever be the same."

Two questions he’s often asked are, "What does the 'J' in his name stand for?" and "Do you watch HBO's 'Entourage'?"

Fox admits that his actual middle name is "Andrew," but he didn't want to be known in Hollywood as "Michael A. Fox."

He chose "J" as an homage to classic film actor Michael J. Pollard, after watching Pollard's performance as C.W. Moss in 1967's "Bonnie & Clyde."

With regard to "Entourage," Fox says simply, "I lived 'Entourage'."

The humor jibes became fewer and further between as Fox discussed the onset of his first symptoms of Parkinson's Disease during the filming of 1991's "Doc Hollywood."

The actor admitted that he was in denial at first, seeking as many as half a dozen opinions from doctors before facing the truth.

Once again, the tone of the lecture shifted from somber to heartwarming as the film star told of his unwillingness to allow his disease to thwart his career.

He starred in and produced the sitcom "Spin City" from 1996-2000 at which time, the disease had advanced to the point where he was no longer able to work regularly. However, since then, Fox has stayed active, frequently guest starring on television in such popular shows as "Scrubs," "Rescue Me," "Boston Legal" and he will appear in 2011 in the eighth season of HBO hit show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Fox emphasized the importance of family, and ended his presentation with a final anecdote about attending a 2008 Presidential candidate debate between John McCain and Barack Obama.

Unable to sufficiently suppress his Parkinson's symptoms, Fox sat in the audience for what he said seemed like an eternity, before finally allowing his wife to escort him from the room.

"I'm a very lucky man," he told her when the two were outside.

"The only thing in my life that's not up to me," he told the crowd at the Jorgenson Center, "is whether or not I have Parkinson's Disease."

Though he might not be able to perform like he once did, and his speech sometimes runs together -- another symptom of the disease -- Fox has lost none of the natural charisma that made him a box office smash in the 1980s.

At the conclusion of his presentation, Fox received another standing ovation from the audience before exiting the stage. It was a fitting departure for a man who, through all the adversity, is forever looking up.

The university's student government sponsored the lecture, which was based on Fox’s book, “Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist.”

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