Monday, November 15, 2010

Michael J. Fox

About six months ago, my friend Jeff decided to run the NYC Marathon. He stopped drinking, joined a jogging group, and ate a pile of peanut butter sandwiches for some reason. He woke up early every morning and just felt like running. I thought he was crazy. I didn’t understand the appeal of running 26.2 miles just for the heck of it.

But then I saw the race.

Everyone in New York seemed to be outside on that sunny day. There was a unique positive energy in the air. I’d never seen New Yorkers be so nice to each other. There were no dirty looks, spitting, and a general disdain for one another. Instead, people were smiling, talking, and cheering on the runners (a hundred people even sang “Happy Birthday!” to a passenger on a packed bus.)

Jeff had his name printed on the front of his shirt. Strangers screamed “Go Jeff!” as he trotted through the boroughs of New York. At first, it was weird, but then he got used to it. When he heard his name, he pointed to his fans, and lived it up. He felt famous for a day.

I have to thank Jeff for inspiring me. His dedication and hard work really showed me something. But I also have to thank Jeff because if he hadn’t run, I never would have met Michael J. Fox.

In order to run, Jeff had to raise money for a charity. He chose the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. I happily donated money for three reasons: it would help my friend, it was a worthy cause, and I loved Back to the Future, Teen Wolf, and Family Ties.

On Marathon day, I stood amongst the members of Team Fox. Runners tumbled by, some in athletic gear, one as a fireman, a UPS worker, and Superman. But my attention was on the person in front of me: Michael J. Fox.

I patted him on the back and congratulated him on his cause. He thanked me, and then informed me it was time to walk his dog. A few minutes later, his dog Gus was by his side. A few people took pictures with him. I patted his dog and wondered if I should tell him that Back to the Future was my favorite movie of all-time, and how much I enjoyed his book “Lucky Man.” I decided against it. Instead, I scratched Gus’ ears, and let him lick my hand. Then Michael told me it was time to go. Gus had to pee.

On the surface, the conversation was not profound. It probably meant nothing to him, but to me it meant something. Here was a guy who bravely continued acting after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease; a guy who spends his time and energy raising money for the cause; and here was a guy whose movies and TV shows made me want to be a writer. I will never forget the day I met Michael J. Fox and his dog licked my hand.

As a tribute to him, here are my favorite Michael J. Fox roles of all time:

Marty McFly (Back to the Future)

Marty McFly will forever be one of my favorite characters in film history. How can you not like a kid who plays the guitar, skateboards, and can travel through time?! Thanks to amazing writing, creativity, and Fox’s performance, Back to the Future is one of the best movies ever made, and my favorite movie of all time (click here for my previous post.) The sequels were decent (the third being the weakest), but the original was a masterpiece.

Marty McFly was a perfect blend of insecurity and confidence. I could relate to his self-doubt, but also wished I could be as tough as him and stand up to bullies. His skateboard chase with Biff could go down as one of the best scenes ever.

You can try to call him Calvin Klein, but he goes by Marty. He likes Tab, Pepsi-Free, purple underwear, and rock n’ roll. His band name is the Pinheads, he fears rejection, and he loves to wear life preservers. His best friend is an odd scientist, he loves to use the term “heavy”, and he never backs down from a fight. He’s a philanthropist (donated money to save the clock tower), can drive a stick shift, and his family will always come first.

Marty McFly is as cool as they come.

Alex P. Keaton (Family Ties)

Family Ties is arguably one of the best family sitcoms of all time. And the star of the show was Michael J. Fox. He stole nearly every episode with his quick witted one-liners. He was a republican wise-ass who loved Nixon, Reagan, business, and money. His favorite show was Wall Street Week. He was so charming even my Mom, a staunch republican hater, loved him.

I’ll never forget the episode where he gets dumped at the dance by Ellen. Every time “At the Moment” comes on the easy listening station, I get a tear in my eye, and think of Alex P. Keaton.

Here’s the link:

And extra props to Alex for having a neighbor named Skippy, and dating Courtney Cox’s Lauren pre-Friends.

Scott Howard (Teen Wolf)

“I want a keg of beer.” Scott Howard wasn’t so intimidating, but when he wolfed out, he was unstoppable. The plot is laugh out loud ridiculous—a high school kid turns into a wolf, gets wicked popular, and becomes a basketball star—but because of Fox it works.

I love this movie! MJ Fox is charming as usual as the everyday high school kid. He has a crush on the school hottie, Pamela Wells, but you know his heart is with his next door neighbor Boof. He surrounds himself with good people: Styles, one of the best 80’s sidekicks of all time, and Chubbs, his fat basketball teammate.

Teen Wolf introduced me to the world of van surfing, kegs of beer, and wolf basketball. It will always be one of my favorite movies. The scene where Fox wolfs out and gets with Pamela Wells could go down as one of the best hook-ups in cinematic history.

Only Michael J. Fox could take such a goofy storyline and make it one of the best movies of the 80’s.

Dr. Benjamin Stone (Doc Hollywood)

Michael J. Fox plays Dr. Ben Stone, a smooth talking plastic surgeon on his way to Beverly Hills. After a car accident, he gets stuck in Grady, the squash capital of America. He falls in love with the beautiful Julie Warner, adopts a pig, and learns how charming small towns can be.

Michael J. Fox is as likable as ever as the wise-ass city kid. I love when he butts heads with old Dr. Hogue, bonds with his patients (especially when he passionately reads mail to an illiterate couple), and attempts to woo Julie Warner.

And although this post is about Michael J. Fox, the greatest moment in the film is when Julie Warner emerges from the lake buck naked, walks by Ben Stone, and sexily announces: “You can blink now.”

Lewis Rothschild (The American President)

In one of the more underrated movies of the last two decades, Michael J. Fox plays Lewis, the fast talking speech writer for the president. Lewis is witty, funny, and even challenges the president on various occasions. My favorite moment is during the president’s final impromptu speech, the camera pans over to Lewis who pumps his fist in approval. Then Michael Douglas says: “My name is Andrew Shepherd and I AM the president.” Love that scene!

Brantley Foster/Carlton Whitfield (The Secret of My Succe$s)

The Secret of My Succe$s was never a huge success, but I liked it. Michael J. plays Brantley the hard working mail boy who desperately wants to be a successful business man. So in classic 80’s/90’s fashion (see Working Girl), he conjures up a fake identity. As Carlton Whitfield, Fox gets to be calm, cool, and confident. In his alter ego, he climbs his way up the company ladder, sleeps with his Uncle’s cougar wife, and meets his dream girl. This is a classic early 90’s movie—it’s all over the place, a little absurd, but since Fox is so damn cool, I watch it whenever it’s on TV.

Scott Larson (Midnight Madness)

This was MJ Fox’s debut film. Although I can’t remember the whole movie, I do remember watching it with my brothers a bunch of times. It’s definitely one of those obscure movies with a cult following.

It’s about a group of college kids on an epic scavenger hunt (this definitely needs to be re-made.) Michael J. Fox plays somebody’s younger brother; he’s probably 18, but he looks like he’s 12. When he craftily uses his retainer to win one of the challenges, I knew he was headed towards a life of stardom. And what do you know…I was right!

Thanks for everything Michael. Keep up the good work!