The Toughest Man on TV

Michael J. Fox is staging one of the most remarkable showbiz comebacks of all time – but just don’t ever feel sorry for him

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY: Fox in New York in August
Mark Seliger
By Brian Hiatt
Oct 03, 2013

HE'S A SHORT GUY, even smaller than he looks onscreen, and his legs have some trouble communicating with his brain these days, but at age 52, Michael J. Fox still manages to walk a whole lot faster than most people. One bright early-summer Friday on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a friendly, sunburned blur of Fox-ness rolls into the modest office suite he keeps in his apartment building. “Hey! How’s it going?” Fox says, in that mildly squeaky, crazily familiar, “You-built-a-time-machine-out-of-a-De-Lorean?” voice of his. He just woke up, and he’s wearing a slate-blue T-shirt over slim, laudably un-dad-ish dark jeans and gray slip-on Vans.

He zooms into the next room and -tosses himself onto a brown leather couch, near a new-looking Fender Strat and Twin Reverb amp, still with tags attached, in the corner. Framed photographs of Fox jamming with Bruce Springsteen and The Who (“The secret is knowing when to turn your amp down,” he says) sit on white wooden bookshelves stuffed with a smorgasbord of showbiz-award statuettes – even a Grammy, for the audio version of one of his books. Over the past decade, he wrote (or at least dictated) his two bestselling memoirs in this room, pacing the carpet until it wore out as he chronicled his career, family life and the substantial wisdom he’s acquired from his 22-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. (His wife, the actress Tracy Pollan – who played his girlfriend on Family Ties – enjoys recounting the moment when Fox moaned, “I’m never going to finish my book about optimism!”)

Thirteen years ago, Fox quit his starring role on the ABC sitcom Spin City, his last full-time job, largely because he felt his symptoms were starting to interfere with his performances. He had made his Parkinson’s diagnosis public just two years earlier, and a good chunk of America’s population – 32.7 million people – watched an elegantly executed, very--special-episode send-off for his character, a cocky deputy mayor. It also felt very much like a funeral for a beloved actor’s career. In the episode’s last moments, a moist-eyed Fox stepped out of character to wave goodbye to the studio audience and the cameras, with palpable finality. He turned his attention to rearing his three (soon-to-be four) kids and to guiding the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which has so far raised more than $350 million toward accelerating the pace of research for a Parkinson’s cure.

But now Fox is doing something altogether unexpected for someone who was diagnosed with an incurable, progressive brain disease back in 1991, when his doctor warned that he had no more than 10 years left of his acting career: He’s going back to work. Beginning in 2004, Fox gradually eased back into television – popping up on Boston Legal, Rescue Me, The Good Wife and Curb Your Enthusiasm (“I thought I was the sickest guy on this block, but you’re the new champ,” Fox tells Larry David). Fox is in the first weeks of a 22-
episode shoot for The Michael J. Fox Show, the third network sitcom of his career. Last night, he worked past 1 a.m. – a 14-hour day. “I just don’t tell myself that I can’t do it,” he says. “Then I just do it. A show is easier to regulate than life. There’s no -surprises, really. You know what you have to do in a given day, and you rest and medicate accordingly. I’m shocked at how much easier this is than I thought it would be.”

The show is a straight family sitcom, with Fox playing a much-loved TV-news anchor who happens to have Parkinson's, and is undertaking his own un-retirement, heading back on the air. "People said, 'Are you sure you can handle this?'" Fox recalls. "'Are you sure you can take it on? Are you sure you can deal with it?' And I said, 'No, I'm not sure I can, but I want to and I have an opportunity to.' And another side of it, that I don't deal with every day but is certainly present, is that on some level it might be empowering for people. The point is, we all have our bag of hammers. We all have our own shit. It's like the parable about this circle of people and everyone takes their worst problem and puts it in the middle and they all get to choose one to take back – and they all end up choosing their own. And that's kind of it. You'd always take your own problems back over someone else's."

In addition to his uncanny ability to summon up these wise-man allegories – friends jokingly call him Gandhi – Fox is something of a medical anomaly. After a decade or so, most Parkinson's patients become less responsive to the synthetic dopamine that can help regulate the condition's characteristic tremors, which are paradoxically paired with a paralytic sensation of stiffness. But he's still highly responsive to the medicine, and he's also found a particular mix of drugs that has him feeling much better than he did 10 years ago. He looks good, too, for what it's worth, even with the inevitable loss of some of his youthful supercuteness – his features have taken on enough of a harder edge that, from some angles, he resembles his Spin City replacement, Charlie Sheen – Fox blames "a square jaw and a well-traveled look in the eyes."

All that said, at the moment, here in his office, Fox isn't doing so great. His face has stilled into a blank mask; his speech is slurring. He's propped his right leg up on a coffee table, where it isn't so much shaking as it is vibrating, like he's tapping his foot to a Ramones song played double time. Though it's hard to tell from the outside, he's also experiencing "cognitive misfiring," an extreme version of pre-coffee morning grogginess. When I admire his guitar amp, he finds himself unable to come up with its name.

Without a word, Fox bolts from the couch and lurches toward a side room, emerging a second later with a grasshopper-size pill in his mouth, which he washes down with a practiced swig of Poland Spring. He has the day off from the show, and thought he might be able to save his medication for the golf game he's playing later. Too high a dosage has its own pitfalls, so it was a trade-off worth attempting. "I was pretty still and calm," he says, "and I thought, 'Can I have a conversation like this?' Like, 'Is it Rolling Stone or the golf course?' Which one am I going to get my shit together for? So I thought I'd try to do this straight-edge."

Fox doesn't find his symptoms upsetting, but he's well aware that other people do. "People look at me," he says, "and have fear and sadness in their eyes, which they think they're seeing reflected back at them. They wouldn't see what I'm really feeling, which is, 'I'm OK!' But people are afraid. I did an interview with Larry King and it was a little more disjointed and fractured than usual, and I realized that it was the first time I'd talked to him since my diagnosis and that he was afraid. So I had to understand that before people deal with me they're going to deal with what they think I'm going through. Then time will pass and they'll realize that this is just my life, the stuff I was given to deal with."

Over the next 30 minutes, the medicine visibly takes effect. Most strikingly, Fox's leg seems to speed up, before gradually slowing and almost stopping its movements, all with the inevitability of a high tide going out. He's smiling again, back to talking in the metaphor-studded mega-paragraphs that are his usual mode of expression. "It's just a feeling of settling," he says, trying to describe the symptoms and their relief. "Like, the suburbs, the outlying areas, aren't being served, and then it's just like the power starts to come on – the TV starts to hum again and the air conditioner is going and the lights come up and it's just all working and you get a little bit of extra motion. The bigger issue is the combination of freezing and being still and having less fluidity in your movements and then at the same time having this kinetic energy tremor – that's the toughest thing."

Fox thinks it's a mistake, however, to focus too much on his subjective experience of the disease. "There's a fascination with what it feels like to experience something like this," he says. "And I just find that the more interesting thing is what it's meant to me, and I'm much less in the physical part of it than I am in the kind of emotional part of it and the enlightening part of it. Things like the fog lifting and the extremities calming down, that doesn't change the driver I was five minutes ago. That just changes the car I'm in. I'm just in a better car now. And I can go places that I want to go as opposed to just a prescribed route – you know, like the Disney Autopia thing that's just on a track – so it's much more like a Ferrari on a freeway. Well, not a Ferrari. At least a Mustang."

THE 1980S WERE GOOD TO MICHAEL J. FOX, outlandishly so. "I went from girls not giving me the time of day to reading it off their bedside digital clocks," he recalls. "It was pretty cool." There were endless reasons to celebrate, which, for him, meant getting really drunk, over and over again. For a long time, that didn't pose a problem. "All of a sudden I was getting into all these clubs and the VIP room, which was a really ridiculous thing," he says. "'Because if you're in the VIP room, you're not in the club! You're in a little room upstairs. It's like, 'Wow, here I am in the VIP room. That's Dustin Hoffman. I'm not going home with him.'"

When Fox was 17, his straight-laced father, a retired Canadian army sergeant, unexpectedly allowed him to drop out of high school to pursue an acting career, even driving with his son 1,200 miles from suburban Vancouver to L.A. After three years of intermittent small roles, superstardom had not arrived, and Fox took to stuffing unpaid bills from creditors and the IRS into an increasingly overflowing cupboard. By the time he had his final audition to play Alex P. Keaton on a sitcom called Family Ties, he was selling off his furniture for food money, and his parents were urging him to return to Canada and get a real job.

Instead, he got the part, and pretty much everything else he wanted. He spent the fall of 1984 with layers of latex and yak hair glued to his face, shooting a cheap little indie comedy, Teen Wolf, during a Family Ties hiatus. On location one day in an oak-tree-lined Pasadena, California, neighborhood, a fully wolfed-up Fox was drinking his lunch milkshake through a straw ("I couldn't eat food because I would break the foam on the sides of my mouth," he recalls) when location scouts for another movie showed up. They were working on Back to the Future, a Steven Spielberg-­produced film, with Eric Stoltz in the lead role as Marty McFly, and Crispin Glover as his dad. "I knew Crispin, and I was like, 'Shit. Crispin gets this Spielberg movie,'" says Fox, "'and I'm out in Pasadena with werewolf makeup on, sucking a weak-ass shake through a straw.'" That winter, Stoltz was fired from Back to the Future, and Fox was pulled in to play Marty McFly on a few days' notice – it turned out he had been the filmmakers' first choice all along. For months, Fox shot Family Ties during the day and Back to the Future at night. He was convinced that he had been a disaster as Marty McFly, and he could barely remember any of it, anyway. The next summer, he found himself the star of the year's top movie – and Teen Wolf, released in its wake, became an unexpected hit.

As his streak of good fortune stretched on, Fox developed a never-articulated, ever-growing terror of his luck turning, of bills coming due, of the other shoe dropping. He had grown up working-class, and his new life sometimes didn't seem real. He had learned early on, though, that alcohol could help him ignore his insecurities. He had started drinking as a teenager in Canada, largely to get past his discomfort with his size. As a kid, he was athletic, charming and good-looking, but tiny: "I was a homunculus," he says with a laugh, noting that he wrestled at 98 pounds. Drugs were never a problem, though, then or later. "I smoked a bit of pot in high school," he says, "but I couldn't smoke pot and drink 'cause I'd get what I call the six-second warning where you have six seconds to find out where you want to sleep. But being Canadian, I never met a beer I didn't like."

In the late Eighties, he attempted more serious roles (mulleted blue-collar rocker in Light of Day, cokehead fact-checker in Bright Lights, Big City, conscience-haunted soldier in Casualties of War), shot two Back to the Future sequels back-to-back, fell in love, got married at 27, and had a kid less than a year later.

On a Tuesday morning in November 1990, just a few months after the release of Back to the Future Part III, Fox woke up in the presidential suite of a Gainesville, Florida, hotel and, through the haze of a hangover acquired via a long night out with Woody Harrelson, noticed something deeply strange: The pinkie finger of his left hand was twitching, and it wouldn't stop. He immediately saw a team of Florida neurologists, who assured him he was fine. Nearly a year would pass, and other symptoms would appear, before Fox learned the truth, including the 10-year time limit for his career.

With Pollan and the new baby, Sam, Fox had left his prince-of-Hollywood lifestyle behind. "I didn't think that I could live my life that way," Pollan says now. "If that's what he wanted, that wouldn't have been something I was interested in." But in the wake of the diagnosis, Fox started drinking alone for the first time, lying about it, falling into full-blown alcoholism. "I was at a loss as to how to deal with it," he says. "The idea of, 'Did I suck this woman into a bum deal and have a kid right away and then fall into this situation?' It was much easier to have a buzz going and not deal with the reality of it."

Before long, Pollan gave him an implicit ultimatum – "The drinking he was doing was too much for me," she says – and he hit bottom, entering recovery. "It was like snapping to and saying, 'Holy shit. This isn't the preview. This is the movie. And I'm already well into the first big plot twist,' which is that I was going to lose all of this stuff," says Fox. "I had a great marriage and a great son, and I didn't want to blow that." He's been sober for 21 years: "My sobriety is old enough to drink."

The tools he acquired in the program – acknowledging lack of control over a disease, learning maxims like "My happiness goes in direct proportion to my acceptance and in inverse proportion to my expectations" – turned out to be equally suited to dealing with the inescapable realities of Parkinson's. "That's the source of all this wisdom that's attributed to me," says Fox. "It's like I just took an ass-kicking and remembered the boots were kicking me."

Around the same time, he went into therapy, where the biggest revelation was also the most obvious. When he told his therapist that his old fear – that the other shoe was about to drop – was plaguing him, she smiled. "Michael," she told him, "you have Parkinson's disease. The other shoe dropped a long time ago."

A WEEK LATER, ACROSS THE BRIDGE at Queens' Silvercup Studios, Fox is standing in a fake kitchen in front of searing lights and a huge HD camera, trading scripted banter ("At least he knows his produce!") with fictional family members he's only known for weeks. He couldn't possibly feel more at home. "Doing a sitcom scene in a kitchen – it's tough to film, but it's great," he says, standing in the fake living room. "These scenes, where everyone intersects – it's such an echo of Family Ties for me."

There's a cool circle-of-TV-life thing here as well. "I like the idea of having started playing the son on a family show," he says. "Then an adult in a workplace, and now playing a middle-aged father at home. It's nice – it's a good arc."

Fox has been thinking a lot lately about his old show, especially after a recent visit to the former location of the Keatons' kitchen, Paramount Stage 24 in L.A., where he spoke at a memorial for Ties creator Gary David Goldberg, a key mentor who also worked with Fox on Spin City. "It was very Proustian," he says, "the smells of it and just the little corners of the backroom." Goldberg, who died in June at age 68, was a sitcom traditionalist who bristled at Fox's modest attempts to push the boundaries of the form on Spin City. But Fox knows he would've loved The Michael J. Fox Show. Other than the novelty of its lead character's disability, it's proudly old-fashioned: The rise and fall of the setups and punch lines are as inevitable as the 12-bar blues that Fox likes to play along with for hours on his guitar.

In the current kitchen scene, he and his TV wife (Betsy Brandt, a.k.a. Marie from Breaking Bad – who says shooting that show's final episodes left her quite ready to switch to comedy) are gently arguing about their kids' refusal to play sports, and (misunderstanding alert!) three different family members simultaneously show up with takeout dinners. "It's familiar stuff," Fox says. "But there's a reason it's familiar, and, if you execute it well, it's like stepping into a hug. The blues is a good analogy."

Shooting one bit, Fox draws laughs from the crew with his delivery of a single line: "What? Parkinson's!" He does it five times, bending the phrases like a blue note, sometimes adding a shrug, sometimes getting louder, sometimes trailing off. Even without any context, it's funny.

Fox hadn't tried drawing directly on his disease for comedy until his 2011 Curb Your Enthusiasm episode – which Larry David and his writing team outlined in full without checking with Fox. "What actually surprised me the most about him was not that he was game and willing," says David. "Because I thought he might be, but, you know, when I had seen him in the past, anything he's ever done, the lines had been written for him. But that's what surprised me the most, how sharp he was improvising. He came up with great lines on the spot, one after another. I could barely get through a scene with him." After the episode aired, Fox's longtime friend Denis Leary called him: "I said, 'You've got to do a f***in' thing. You've got to do a comedy or somethin' about Parkinson's, 'cause it's sitting right there, you know?'"

The unpredictability of his symptoms, and the concomitant loss of control over his movements, have forced Fox to change his approach to acting. But he's convinced this has helped him be more present in scenes than ever before. "I used to be really nervous and sit in my dressing room and fret about a scene that was coming up and sweat it out and say, 'What am I going to do? You say "Action," and I have to do something. What am I going to do? And what's that actor going to do? And how do I respond to that?' And now it's just like, 'OK, what's happening?' And if something happens, I react to it and if nothing happens, I don't react. I don't worry about that bit I was going to do or the look I was gonna give because when I get there I may not be able to give that look or do that thing or move that glass."

His biggest acting challenge in recent years was on Rescue Me, where Leary cast him as a bitter, wheelchair-bound romantic rival. "He wanted to do something darker," says Leary. "His joke right off the bat about being in a wheelchair was, 'Great, thanks for writing a part where I have to be absolutely still.' And I said, 'You want to win a f***in' Emmy or not?'" He kept still, and won the Emmy.

As Fox hangs around the video monitors, leaning on a row of director's chairs with The Michael J. Fox Show logo on the back, Brandt walks over to say hello. "You've become so graceful at leaning over to kiss me," he says. As with the other female lead on the show, Katie Finneran, who plays Fox's sister, Brandt towers over him – she wore heeled cowboy boots to her audition, and she half-jokes that she nearly walked out in instant defeat when they had to try a scene standing up.

"I told them it doesn't matter to me," says Fox. "And if it did matter to me, it wouldn't make me any taller! There's a story someone told me when I was doing Back to the Future: With a short actor, they stand on a box – with a short movie star, everyone else stands in a trench." He pauses. "So, I'm back on boxes!"

Jack Gore, the redheaded eight-year-old who plays the family's archetypally adorable younger son, wanders by, carrying a "curse jar." A lot of people on set owe him money, he says, and he's donating all the swear-word proceeds to Parkinson's research. "Oh, shit," Fox snaps back, instantly. "What a great idea!"

THE FOLLOWING EVENING, CAST AND CREW relocate to an indoor ice-hockey rink on the Manhattan waterfront for a well-timed location shoot. It's one of the hottest days of the year, with temperatures still in the nineties even as the sun dips beyond the docks in a flamboyant purple-orange swirl. But in here, it's downright chilly. The production has commandeered the rink to shoot a sequence where Fox and a bunch of other dads end up playing hockey in place of their kids' teams. The action is sufficiently complex that they're working from a storyboard, with a good 50 action shots sketched out in little panels and tacked to a felt board, complete with captions ("Mike skates into frame," "Mike taunts Coach Greg").

As the extras playing the kids' team clear off the ice, Fox sits in the bleachers, hockey stick in one hand, script in the other. He's a lifelong hockey fanatic, and he's itching to get out there. Soon enough, with the excuse of "practice," he's got his skates on, and steps out onto the rink, in a gray T-shirt, jeans and no head protection. He begins to skate in earnest, and heads around the room turn to watch in awed silence. He's moving with grace and ease, tracing a semicircle around the lights and camera blocking a corner of the rink. His comfort on the ice is a mere neurological quirk – the continuous motion makes it less taxing for his brain than walking or putting on a button-down shirt. But for a moment, as he glides, picking up speed, it looks more like some species of miracle, a sight as beautiful as the sun setting outside on the Hudson.

Then Fox takes too sharp a turn, and falls hard, landing on his back. There's a millisecond of collective terror before he clambers up, unhurt ("My ass took the blow," he says later). Everyone decorously ignores the moment, except for a two-man Greek chorus of bald, heavyset, Queens-accented teamsters watching rinkside. "Jesus Christ, Michael," one says. "Put a f***ing helmet on!"

"I can't watch this," says the other. "I just saw my paycheck going down."

Fox skates on, now pushing a puck around. After two tries, he slams it hard into the center of the net. "I missed twice," he says, genuinely aggrieved, as he steps off. Fox doesn't cut himself breaks, and he enjoys confounding people's expectations. Not long ago, at a summit hosted by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Fox tried skeet shooting. "One of the greatest moments in my life," he says with a grin, "was me with a cocked shotgun and a group of people looking at me going, 'What the f***?' I knew that when I pulled the skeet I'd be still and shoot it, and I did. I blew it out of the sky on the first shot."

Other than the incurable-affliction thing, Fox is in great shape – thanks to a Pilates practice, a careful diet (his brother-in-law is natural-food advocate Michael Pollan), frequent long walks with his Great Dane mix, Gus, and a golf habit acquired in the past six or seven years, after Alice Cooper convinced him it was cool. (Sex, he says, isn't a problem, although "it's always up in the air who will be the agent of motion.") "After the initial brain-f*** of the diagnosis," he says, "I realized that I had to watch my health. I know that I got a tiger by the tail and, if I don't pay attention, it will eat me. So I have to be vigilant – I've seen people go south of this disease because they just give up. And though I don't have any experience with it, I can visualize what would happen if I just let myself fold inward. Because when symptoms start, if I want to make them less prevalent, I kinda tuck in and get smaller, and that's what it would be like to give up. As much as Parkinson's is about movement, the end stage is being frozen. So the more I let that happen, the more I'm gonna be stuck within that and unable to reverse it."

Some bad habits were harder to quit than others. As the wait between takes drags on, Fox hangs by monitors at the side of the bleachers, pining for his old method of killing time. "This is why I used to smoke," he says with a sigh. On Back to the Future, the prop department made him an ashtray stand so he could light up as soon as each take finished; on Family Ties, his entrance to the family kitchen was littered with hundreds of cigarette butts. Parkinson's forced him to quit for a while in the Nineties, but initially it wasn't for health reasons: "A couple of times at home," recalls Leary, a fellow tobacco addict, "the cigarettes just flew out of his hands when his arms went crazy, and so not only was a lit cigarette somewhere, but he didn't know where it was." After Fox got better control of his symptoms, Leary remembers him showing up at a party in 2001: "Mike walks over," Leary recalls, "he slams down a pack of Marlboros and he goes, 'I'm back! I can smoke again.'" Fox eventually quit for good, though he still chews Nicorette.

Any alcohol cravings, on the other hand, left him long ago. "I have times when I'm off-balance," he says. "I have times when I slur my words. I have times when I walk into walls. I have times when I can't remember somebody's name. So why would I want to manufacture that state?"

FOX INHERITED HIS DRESSING ROOM at Silvercup from Alec Baldwin – the new show occupies the same studio space that 30 Rock used for seven seasons. Howard Stern used it, too, when he filmed Private Parts, which might explain the hairdresser-style shampoo sink in the bathroom. "So this room has great energy," says Fox, sitting in front of a big-screen TV tuned to SportsCenter. It's a couple of weeks later, and Fox spent a week off at the beach with his two daughters – along with Juliette Goglia, who plays his daughter on the show. A vacation snapshot is one of the few personal effects in the room, which is decorated with generic black-and-white photographs. "Howard Stern and Alec Baldwin – it's intense just walking in the room."

Over 30 years of fame, Fox has managed to avoid anything even vaguely like a public tantrum. But he does have a temper, he does occasionally run out of patience – if a cabdriver is rude to Tracy, for instance, he's been known to lose it. When, in 2006, Rush Limbaugh made the deranged claim that Fox was exaggerating his symptoms while campaigning for pro-stem-cell research candidates, Fox's response was diplomatic in public but less so with friends. "The flip side to his public persona does sometimes get flashed," says Leary. "In private, he was brutally f***in' darkly funny about Limbaugh, but he wanted to hold off on letting the public see that. But that part of him is there, as well as the frustration of the disease, no matter how well he handles it. Mike has always had a dark side. It's one of the things that makes him so funny. And those ghosts and those demons are part of what he overcame in getting sober and turning himself into an even bigger saint than he was in America's eyes."

When Fox started his foundation in 2000, he repeatedly said that a cure for Parkinson's could be discovered within a decade. "It wasn't optimism," says Debi Brooks, the foundation's co-founder. "Scientists were regularly saying it was possible." But the treatments that showed the most promise at the time haven't yet panned out, and Fox's foundation has been pushing to accelerate research pathways for other possible methods. "This was never about curing him," Brooks says, pointing out that Fox encouraged them to fund theoretical research that might not yield treatments for years. "It's never been, 'Oh, well, that'd be good. But that doesn't save my life.'"

The course of Parkinson's can differ wildly for every patient, and with Fox doing better than anyone would have expected, his doctors have stopped making predictions. And he swears that he doesn't worry about his future, or even think about it. "These little koans and sayings that I toss off are hard-earned bits of wisdom," he says, "and one of them is that if you imagine the worst-case scenario and it happens, you've lived with it twice. Shit's gonna happen, whether you expect or anticipate it or not. You just don't know the velocity of it. The weight of it. So there's no sense in trying to anticipate that."

He is, as it turns out, starting to experience an intense bout of symptoms right now. "This is as bad as it gets," he says, pulling his jaw tight with discomfort. His body is simultaneously tensing and shuddering, as if he's experiencing a highly localized earthquake. His right arm is a streak of constant motion. He stands up, takes another pill, and starts pacing back and forth, which helps a little. "I find if I'm moving, it just feels better," he says.

He's slightly hunched over, still pacing, and he begins to talk. "This is valuable time, too," he says. "I don't just write it off. It's like someone was telling me the other day about someone they knew with Parkinson's, and he didn't go out of the house. He said, 'I don't want anyone to see me this way,' to which I respond, 'What way? The way you are?' 'Cause it's not that bad. It's just an altered state. But I don't know what normal is anymore. I mean, my natural state is this. By the use of medication, the calm part is the contrived part."

He's taken more medicine, but if anything, his arm's movements are intensifying. Amid the motion, Fox's blue eyes have grown very still, bright and intense, and for a moment, you can see the part of him that Leary knows. It's not really a dark side – it's more like dark matter, the secret fuel at his core. "The bottom line of this whole f***ing thing is that it's better," Fox says, pacing on. "My life is better than it was, because I have access to these truths and access to these moments where I give myself a break and just go, 'F*** it.'

"What I say in my first book remains true: If I walked into a room with God or Buddha or Bill Gates or Sergey Brin or whoever could figure out a way to fix it for me, I don't think I'd do it. Because I wouldn't have gone through what I've gone through and I wouldn't have had the experience I've had, and I can still do my shit." His eyes are still blazing in that unfamiliar way, and he fixes them on me. "At the end of the day," he says, "I can still do a show. So what have I lost?"

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