Michael J Fox awarded honorary Oscar for Parkinson's advocacy

The Back to the Future actor has raised more than $1 billion for research to find a cure for the disease

Actor Michael J  Fox accepts the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award during the 13th Governors Awards. Photo: Getty
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Actor Michael J Fox received an honorary Oscar on Saturday, in recognition of advocacy work that has raised $1.5 billion for research into Parkinson's disease.

The Back to the Future actor was diagnosed with the nerve disorder, which causes tremors and other symptoms, at the age of 29. Despite continuing to act, after his initial diagnosis, on films and TV shows such as Spin City, The Good Wife, Stuart Little and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Fox eventually pivoted away from the industry and founded The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, to help fund the search for a cure.

Actor Woody Harrelson introduced Fox on stage and referred to his long-time friend as “a masterclass in comedy” who possesses an “invincible superhuman quality". He also noted how Fox has “turned a chilling diagnosis into a courageous mission".

Fox was given a standing ovation from the audience, which included A-listers Tom Hanks, Laura Dern, Mindy Kaling and Jennifer Lawrence, as he accepted the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group that hands out Academy Awards.

"It is humbling in the deepest way to stand here and accept your kindness," Fox said in his acceptance speech.

Fox said the hardest part about his initial diagnosis was "grappling with the certainty of the diagnoses and the uncertainty of the situation".

“I only knew it was going to get worse,” he said. “The diagnoses was definite, the progress was indefinite and uncertain.”

He went on to say that for seven years he was in denial and chose to keep his diagnosis private because "I didn't know if an audience could laugh if they knew I was struggling".

Michael J Fox, right, accepts the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from long-time friend and actor Woody Harrelson. AP

But Fox said that when he went public with his diagnosis, the outpouring from fans and the reaction and support from his peers in the entertainment business was “transformative”.

Fox took a moment to also thank his wife Tracy Pollan, who he said “made it clear that she was with him for the duration” when he was first diagnosed.

Other recipients of the Governors Awards included the celebrated and prolific songwriter Diane Warren, whose songs have been featured in more than 100 movies. Some of her biggest hits include If I Could Turn Back Time by Cher, Love Will Lead You Back by Taylor Dayne, Unbreak My Heart by Toni Braxton and Because You Loved Me by Celine Dion.

Warren has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song 13 times throughout her career but has never won. "I've waited 34 years to say this: 'I'd like to thank the Academy,'" Warren said during her acceptance speech.

Also honoured was Australian director Peter Weir, known for films such as Witness and Dead Poets Society and Euzhan Palcy, the first black woman to direct a film produced by a major Hollywood studio with A Dry White Season.

Updated: November 21, 2022, 6:50 AM