From 1983: Michael J. Fox, a rising star with an eye to the future

How exactly did Michael J. Fox make it to Hollywood? That and other questions we posed to the star from Burnaby, B.C., 35 years ago.

Michael J. Fox, from Burnaby to Hollywood

40 years ago
Duration 1:13
The young star of the successful U.S. TV show Family Ties talks about going to Hollywood to try his luck.

Michael J. Fox's journey to stardom had taken him from Burnaby, B.C., to the bright lights of Hollywood.

But how exactly did he get there? That was the first question for him — sort of — when he sat down to talk to CBC's Vancouver Life 35 years ago.

Graphic image for CBC's 1978 comedy Leo & Me, with Michael J. Fox and Brent Carver. (CBC Still Photo Collection)

"What — did you take a bus?" his friend and occasional CBC-TV co-star Jackson Davies, facetiously inquired.

Michael J. Fox and Jackson Davies in a scene from the 1978 CBC series Leo and Me. (CBC Archives/Leo and Me)

"Well, no it was a plane," said Fox.

The Family Ties star's visit to the CBC's Vancouver Life studio brought him back to where he got his acting start — "down the hallway" — in a CBC comedy Leo & Me. 

That's where he and Davies first met, in the late 1970s, when the then-teenage Fox co-starred on Leo & Me with Brent Carver. Davies made guest appearances on the show. 

Davies also wondered about Fox working with people he'd watched on television himself. 

"Is it a little freaky for you?"   

Fox admitted it took "a little while to get over all that," but since had "a real feeling, especially around Paramount, of camaraderie."

Scene from Leo & Me with Brent Carver, Mina E. Mina and Michael J. Fox (CBC Still Photo Collection)

Before he left for Hollywood, on his 18th birthday, Fox did a stage show in Vancouver, Shadow Box

When Paul Newman was making a film adaptation of it, he wanted Fox, who was appearing in a Norman Lear-produced series called Palmerstown, U.S.A. 

Lear refused to release him, and although Fox wanted the role, he took consolation "in knowing that it came down to a meeting between Norman Lear and Paul Newman." 

The road to success with his role in Family Ties was not without some bumps, however. 

A 'real big disappointment'

"Is there any part that you ... missed out on that really bothered you?"  Davies asked Fox. 

Fox said not landing a part in the film Ordinary People "was, like, the first, real big disappointment, something I lived for and breathed for."

Fox told Davies he found that anything he really wanted he didn't get, so when the role of Alex in Family Ties came up, "I tried to really play it down and it's like the first time that it worked out."

Actor Michael J. Fox talks about landing his big TV role

40 years ago
Duration 1:22
The young actor talks about the disappointments that preceded landing the role of Alex in Family Ties.

When Davies asked "what's in the future" for the actor, Fox confessed to having no definite plans, but said he'd like to see Family Ties "go for a couple more years." (He didn't need to worry – it ran five more, for a total of seven.) 

"There are a lot of people that are doing things that I think that I could possibly do, or at least fake," Fox said.

Michael J. Fox on what the future may hold for his career

40 years ago
Duration 0:27
The star of Family Ties is asked what the future might hold for him.

Within a few years, Fox was one of Hollywood's biggest stars, winning multiple Emmy awards for his work on Family Ties and starring in the box-office hit Back to the Future.   

In a 1987 profile that ran on CBC's The Journal, Fox reflected on how his own family kept him grounded, telling the story of how his Emmy Award sat on a table in the front hall of his parents' house, surrounded by the trophies won by his siblings and his parents — "just their little way of saying: 'OK, take it easy, no big deal here." 

Michael J. Fox talks about his first Emmy award

36 years ago
Duration 0:35
The Hollywood star talks about how family keeps him grounded.
  The career hits continued for Fox, with Emmy and Golden Globe awards for his starring role in another long-running hit series,  Spin City

  And the work remained steady, through  Back to the Future sequels, guest appearances on shows such as  The Good WifeCurb Your Enthusiasm and the more recent  Designated Survivor, to name a few.
This photo provided by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment shows Christopher Lloyd, left, as Dr. Emmett Brown, and Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly in the 1985 film, "Back to the Future." (The Associated Press)

Fox, known for his pride in his Canadian roots and love of hockey, has maintained his Canadian ties over the decades since he left for Hollywood. 

In 2012, when Davies and show creator Marc Strange released their book on The Beachcombers, called Bruno and the Beach, Fox wrote the foreword, noting: "I must have been the only actor in Vancouver that never appeared in a Beachcombers episode." 

But he recalled that it was on Leo & Me that he met the "uncomfortably tall" Davies, and that they have "stayed connected over the years, mostly around hockey riots." 

Governor General David Johnston (right) shakes hands Canadian actor Michael J.Fox at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Friday, May 27, 2011. Fox was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. (The Canadian Press/ Patrick Doyle)

In 2017, Fox was a recipient of a Governor General's Performing Arts Award, and was noted as an "actor, writer, producer and humanitarian," the latter for his commitment to working on finding a cure for Parkinson's disease through the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, which he founded in 2000.