MICHAEL J. FOX IN BATTLE OF HIS LIFE

06/11/1999 12:00AM

Breaking seven years of silence since he was first diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, "Spin City" star Michael J. Fox, 37, speaks publicly for the first time in next week's PEOPLE Magazine about his very private struggle with the debilitating disease. In an exclusive 8-page cover story (the issue goes on sale Friday), PEOPLE talks with Fox, his wife -- actress Tracy Pollan, 38 --- his physicians, his colleagues and his mother in great detail about the actor's condition, his outlook and prognosis. They also address the illness' impact on his lifestyle (he has already undergone highly risky brain surgery to alleviate tremors), his family (son Sam, 9, and 3 year-old twin daughters Aquinnah and Schuyler) and the future of his career.

  • In 1991, Fox noticed a "twitch" in his left pinkie while on the set of the film "Doc Hollywood." After undergoing tests, he received the succinct diagnosis. "It was incomprehensible," he tells PEOPLE. "The doctor said I would be able to function for years and years." Over the next few years, however, the disease progressed, and his entire left side suffered from stiffness and tremors. "And I mean big tremors," says Fox, who can still joke about himself. He says he suffered a shaking of his left arm so violent, "I could mix a margarita in five seconds."

  • Parkinson's Disease, which has no known cause or cure, is a progressive degeneration of the central nervous system that ultimately renders some patients unable to walk, talk or care for themselves. (The illness afflicts an estimated 1 million Americans, though the majority of them far older than Fox.) Fox's neurologist Dr. Allan Ropper tells PEOPLE that Fox is in the "late mild" stage (the doctor divides the disease into mild, medium and severe stages): "I don't think anything made Michael especially susceptible to Parkinson's. Among my patients, his case is not extraordinary."

  • Fox tells PEOPLE he continues to treat the disease with the drug Sinemet to control the milder symptoms, including constant rigidity in his hips, tremors in one or both hands and a "tapping" feeling in his feet. At times his arms and wrists are so stiff he cannot even pick up the TV remote control. As a result of his troubles, Fox says he has a new life vision: "It's made me stronger. A million times wiser. And more compassionate, I've realized I'm vulnerable, that no matter how many awards I'm given or how big my bank account is, I can be messed with like that. The end of the story is you die. We all die. So, accepting that, the issue becomes one of quality of life."



- - STEPHEN M. SILVERMAN

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