Tag Archives: Michael J. Fox

Stars Who Overcome Illness Give Inspiration and More

Olivia summer nightsIt’s fabulous to see Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts out on the international 14 On Fire Rolling Stones tour at age 72, more than three years after recovering from throat cancer.

It’s fantastic that Fran Drescher is on Broadway in the revival of Cinderella, nearly 14 years after successfully battling uterine cancer – and becoming a tireless advocate for cancer patients.

We honestly love the fact that 21 years after beating breast cancer, Olivia Newton-John is busy as ever. beginning her “Summer Nights” residency at the Flamingo Las Vegas next month. She was on hand for the opening of Australia’s Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Center in 2008, has put out music releases as cancer fundraisers. Her “Hope is Always Here” song for her 2009 “Kaleidoscope” television special was performed by figure skating great and fellow breast cancer survivor Dorothy Hamill.

Knowing that such admired and diverse famous personalities as Edie Falco, Colin Powell, Eddie Van Halen. Gerald McRaney and Kylie Minogue have faced down cancer gives countless patients all the more resolve.

The fact is, when it comes to battling debilitating or life-threatening ailments, celebrities find themselves in the unique position of being able to quite literally help millions by their own examples.

It is an act of courage and enormous generosity toward their fans and the general public when they choose to share, inspire, fund-raise, lobby on behalf of cures. Melissa Etheridge, at the White House last week for the Women of Soul celebration, is the embodiment of that courage. No one who saw it is likely to forget her flipping off her breast cancer with her 2005 Grammy show performance of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart,” her head shaved bald rather than showing a chemotherapy hair loss.

Going public with an illness can be a career-ender, which is why it’s unusual for performers to be as open as Etheridge. Or Tom Green.

That the king of tacky taste was chosen by fate to get hit with testicular cancer – which predominantly strikes men between the ages of 15 and 35 — turned out to have unforeseen pluses. Who else would have turned the occasion into an MTV “Cancer Special”? The show caused a surge in testing for testicular cancer, which Green told Playboy wasn’t “the main plan.” Still, he added, “I hope the show made kids realize that testicular cancer isn’t embarrassing. It’s #$@!% hilarious. Feel your balls!”

Drescher told us she never made the decision to tell the world of her disease. “I was outed by the tabloids while I was still in the hospital. I turned that into a positive, because it forced me to come to terms what had happened,” she said. “Some people make believe they never had cancer. They keep it a big secret. With me, everyone had heard about it before I had a chance to digest it.”

Fran found that in her case, “There is a silver lining of cancer. Being a survivor has given a purpose to my life and an importance to my fame that works in astounding way I could never have imagined.”

Fran has received many messages from cancer patients and their loved ones thanking her for the inspiration in her best-selling “Cancer Schmancer” book. She’s become the unlikely pal of legislators, lobbying for legislation on behalf of cancer prevention education and cancer care, particularly for women’s cancers, which she believes have received far less attention and research funding than other forms.

Many stars have come through the trials of illness or disability with insight and appreciation, and their words have staying power.

“My teacher told me at the age of 10 that when I grew up, I was going to be given a gift. Diabetes turned out to be it. It gave me the strength and toughness I needed for my life,” said Halle Berry at a Diabetes fund raiser.

Michael J. Fox’s 2003 No. 1 New York Times best-seller, “Lucky Man,” takes readers on a journey through his self-indulgent days as a young star through his denial of his illness to his final acceptance and then advocacy for Parkinson’s sufferers. He’s often bitingly funny and never allows himself to get maudlin – and makes it clear he really does believe in the title. His “Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist” (2009) and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned” (2010) give readers incalculable inspiration along with the laughs. His Michael J. Fox Research Foundation proudly states it has granted more then $450 million in research since 2000. Fox’s ongoing acting career, his roles on shows including “Rescue Me” and “The Good Wife” in addition to his own NBC sitcom are a further testimonial to his grit and gifts.

Meredith Vieira and her husband, CBS News journalist Richard Cohen, have made an art of surmounting the insurmountable. He literally wrote the book on it: “Blindsided: Living a Life Above Illness: A Reluctant Memoir.” Cohen has had multiple sclerosis since age 25 and has gone through two bouts of colon cancer. He is also legally blind. But his is a full life anyway, rich with accomplishment and family love.

Breast cancer survivor Suzanne Somers sums up how life feels with a drastically changed perspective: “The birds are singing more sweetly and the foxes don’t scare me. Everything has slowed down. Cancer does that for you,” she told People magazine. “That’s the first of the blessings. Worrying about work and all those things that were so urgent seemed so stupid. I just want to live.”

Tracy Pollan: ‘Like Jumping into a Black Hole’ Making ‘Justice for Natalee Holloway’

Tracy Pollan, Stephen Amell Lifetime photo by Cook Allender

Tracy Pollan says she was surprised to find that filming tonight’s (5/9) “Justice for Natalee Holloway” Lifetime movie was even more emotionally draining than filming its predecessor, the  2009 “Natalee Holloway.”  She again plays Beth Holloway, whose daughter’s disappearance during a 2005 senior trip to Aruba made headlines around the world.   Prime suspect Joran van der Sloot is in prison in Peru on a different murder charge, but Natalee’s body has never been found.

“On certain days filming it, I felt like I was jumping into a black hole and I couldn’t get out of it,” admits Tracy.  “To actually force yourself to go to your worst possible nightmare takes a lot.  I think it was more difficult this time around because in the first movie, Beth doesn’t know what the outcome is.  She’s on a quest to find her daughter and very, very hopeful through most of the movie.  This one is almost more like ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ building up to this big confrontation with the monster.”

Van der Sloot is played by “The Vampire Diaries'” Stephen Amell in the movie, and Tracy says she deliberately refrained from talking to him on the set beforehand, because she did not want to diffuse the tension.  “When we shot that scene it was a very intense day.   We were at a federal prison, and the whole feeling of the place was scary — that whole environment, the prisoners there, the guards with us.  We shot it in a continuous sequence, like a play,” she adds.

For all that intensity, “Once we finished, it was a huge relief, almost liberating.”

Tracy says that her husband, Michael J. Fox, and their 10-year-old daughter Esme visited her in New Orleans during production, which helped a lot.  So did a visit by one of her close girlfriends.  “It was great to leave the set and not be alone.”  And she found another way to balance a stressful day’s work, she adds with a laugh:  “I was shooting in New Orleans, so I would go and have a huge dinner.”

Still, she stresses, “I think the movie actually leaves people feeling hopeful when they see how Beth has handled this horrible situation.  It shows that you can get through, even things that might seem like the end of your life as you know it — you can get through and turn things around and use them for good.”  That’s something, of course, that Michael and Tracy’s own story proves as well, as they have dealt with his Parkinson’s Disease by becoming  advocates for others with The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

“Vanished With Beth Holloway,” in which the real-life Beth Holloway tries to help other families of missing persons, premieres following “Justice for Natalee Holloway.”

MEANWHILE:  Tracy has been quite selective in taking assignments as her and Michael’s four children (21-year-old Sam, and 16-year-old twins Schuyler and Aquinnah, and Esme) have been growing up.  Now, she says, “I actually would love to do a series.  I am always looking for right thing.  Ideally, I’d love to do a series in New York.  That’s what makes it tricky.  A lot of shows go all over the country to shoot these days — North Carolina, Texas.  I’ve had a couple of offers, but when I took myself through the whole thing, considered what the demands would be like, I couldn’t make them work.  My kids are still too young for me to be away from them for too long.  But if the right series came up in the right place….”

She looks at both comedy and drama, but “I think I sort of go more toward drama, toward the procedurals.  I like that format a lot, and I like the idea of an ensemble.  Or a cable show with a shorter season — that would definitely appeal to me if it showed up on my doorstep.”

When Celebrities – Like Bret Michaels – Show True Grit, the Whole World Benefits

By Stacy Jenel Smith

Bret Michaels Celebrity Apprentice NBC photo

Will Bret Michaels make the live finale of “Celebrity Apprentice” tonight – exactly one month and two days after the brain hemorrhage that could easily have killed him?  And within days of his “warning stroke” and the discovery of a hole in his heart?

If anyone can pull off such a feat, rock and reality star Michaels is a good bet.  He learned to battle through physical challenges from the time he was six and was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.

“When you’re five to eight years old and you find out you’re going to have to take insulin for the rest of your life, its pretty depressing. It’s heartbreaking,” he recalled in an interview a couple of years back.  “But I just looked at it and embraced it.  I said, ‘I’m still going to go out and enjoy my life. I’m still going to make music and ride motorcycles and get tattoos.’ I just gotta work a hell of a lot harder to take care of myself.”

Michaels says being able to go to a camp for diabetics as a child made all the difference in his world. “My mom was one of the counselors and later I was a counselor at a diabetic camp in Pennsylvania. I go back there every so many years to say ‘This is how I did it. This is what you gotta do.’”

He’s also actively raised funds for kids to go to such camps in various ways.  In 2005, an unorthodox campaign — with the mark of Michaels’ creativity now familiar to “Apprentice” fans — involved selling a controversial t-shirt that had a photo of him shirtless on the front and the words, “Bret Michaels Diabetic,” along with the number of injections he’d taken as of the day they shot the picture – some 253, 210.  And then the words, “Fear Nothing: Survive It.”

Michaels is displaying that same kind of courage and grit getting through his current crisis, and in so doing, he’s serving as an inspiration to millions.

When so often the media is focused on negative role models of the celebrity world, it’s worth noting that there are dozens of personalities, like Michaels, who set examples of courage and perseverance every year.  Speaking of those who’ve faced diabetes as just one example, we have the likes of Halle Berry, Mary Tyler Moore, Gary Owens and Nick Jonas, who has played his touching “A Little Bit Longer” song not only in concerts around the world, but at diabetes fund-raisers.

Michael C. Hall, Christina Applegate and Cynthia Nixon have joined the ranks of cancer survivors who advocate for early detection, along with Olivia Newton-John, Melissa Etheridge, Tom Green and a number of others.

Uterine cancer survivor Fran Drescher found that in her case, “There is a silver lining of cancer. Being a survivor has given a purpose to my life and an importance to my fame that works in astounding way I could never have imagined.”

Michael J. Fox continues the fight for a Parkinson’s Disease cure.

Basketball great turned movie theater mogul Magic Johnson has been living with HIV for 19 years now, and providing hope for long and productive lives to others dealing with the disease.

Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen, whose astonishing comeback from the automobile accident that cost him an arm inspires in itself, is constantly active in helping other amputees – particularly Iraq War veterans — through his Raven Drum Foundation.

The examples go on and on.

Even more than five years after his death, the late Christopher Reeve continues to inspire.

No one who was present for the 68th Annual Academy Awards – or watched at home – is likely to forget the heart-stopping sight of a lone figure in a wheelchair, revealed on an otherwise bare stage when the curtains opened.  Reeve, who’d been thrown from  a horse 10 months before and was left paralyzed from the neck down, had the audience of glamorous stars on their feet, some in tears as they applauded.   He then made a joke at his own expense and went on to deliver a compelling introduction about the power of socially-conscious films.  If you ever need a reminder of what courage and the power of the human spirit to triumph over adversity look like, that 3 minute, 12 second clip will do it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffSy3-PJ5QI

In his “Still Me” memoir, the cinema “Superman” recounted his rehabilitation, admitting that initially, he considered suicide because he thought his life was over.  However, he:

  • wrote two best-sellers,
  • directed two telefilms,
  • produced and starred in a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,”
  • received multiple Emmy nominations for his acting and directing work,
  • traveled across the United States giving speeches,
  • established the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to speed spinal cord injury research and aid sufferers,
  • co-founded the Reeve-Irvine Research Center,
  • was instrumental in pioneering a new form of therapy that has accounted for a number of paralyzed patients becoming able to walk again,
  • made the cover of Time,
  • won a Grammy,
  • and shattered ratings records for CW series when he guest starred on “Smallville.”

Those were all among the accomplishments by the late, great Christopher Reeve after his accident.

Borgnine Keeping a Pace That Could Scare Guys Half His Age

Ernest Borgnine on "ER"

Ernest Borgnine on "ER"

Ernest Borgnine may be 92 years old, but he’s keeping up a pace that could scare a man half his age.

The “Marty” Oscar winner just wrapped up work on “The Genesis Code” big screen drama with Louise Fletcher and Fred Thompson in Michigan, and he leaves next week for New Orleans to start work on the comedy “Snatched” — his 202nd picture.

He’s also been busy this summer with book signings for his recently-launched “Ernie, the Autobiography.”  “I love being out meeting the people!” he enthuses.

He helped launch “Another Harvest Moon,” his ensemble drama with Anne Meara and Cybill Shepherd, at this month’s Rhode Island International Film Festival — where Lifetime Achievement Honors were bestowed upon him.  And he squeezed in a visit to Naval Station Newport, where he went through boot camp some 74 years ago.

“This time, they were saying, ‘What can we get for you, Mr. Borgnine?’  None of the finger-pointing and ‘Hey you’s!’ I remember from before,” says the Navy veteran of 10 years, including WWII.

With all that going on, he’s barely had time to celebrate his Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama.  He tells us he and wife Tova will definitely be on hand to see whether he’ll win the honor for his portrayal, on the final episode of “ER,” of a man whose wife of many years is dying.   He played it with such honest simplicity, it was a four hankie job, for sure.

“It was hard in the sense that it never happened to me and to make it look like it was real, I had to really dig into my heart and my head,” he says.  “It turned out fine.”

So fine, he got nominated — while returning stars George Clooney, Eriq LaSalle and Noah Wyle did not.

“I know,” he says and smiles.  “I shouldn’t gloat, believe me.”

Nevertheless, Ernie’s competition is fierce – Michael J. Fox on “Rescue Me,” Ted Danson on “Damages,” Jimmy Smits on “Dexter,” and Edward Asner on “CSI: NY.”

He assures, “I’m just glad I was nominated.  I was also nominated for the Golden Globe and I missed out on that one.  People were saying they were sorry, but I said, ‘Hey, man – I won the nomination!  Are you kidding?’”

BAD BOY: Moviegoers who remember Daryl Sabara as Juni, the cute younger brother of Robert Rodriguez“Spy Kids” movies, are in for a paradigm shift of perception if they see him in “World’s Greatest Dad” starring Robin Williams, opening tomorrow (8/21).  Sabara plays the teenage son you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, a profane and mean-spirited kid whose departure from this earth could only improve it.  So how did writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait come to know that the 17-year-old actor had this ability to play rotten?

“Daryl is a funny guy.  He came in and lied, saying he wanted to play Andrew, the sweet kid in the movie” – when in fact, he had his sites set on terrible Kyle instead.  Bobcat let him read for the latter, and found “he was such a convincing creep – a teenage Gary Oldman, you know?  I had him come in again just to meet with him.  I needed to know he wasn’t really a jerk.”

Goldthwait also tells us there was a surprise when it came to casting Robin Williams as the beleaguered, bereaved title parent in the truly twisted black comedy that was a Sundance Festival hit.  According to Goldthwait, Robin recently confessed, “he thought he was going to help me out and do a cameo.  But then he read the script and said, ‘I’d like to be the guy.’  It really changed everything.”

These days, Goldthwait does stand-up if he needs to support his efforts as an auteur filmmaker.  Admits the show business veteran once thought of as a way-too-out-of-control comic, “The early part of my career, I had the kind of career you usually have when your career is ending.  Having a new career now at 47, I have much more appreciation.”

READ NO EVIL:  Joan Rivers, the queen of jabs, tells us she has one big secret to her success.  If you’ve written something about her, she wants no part of it.  “I don’t read it.  I absolutely don’t read it.  I don’t read good reviews and I don’t read bad reviews,” admits Rivers.  “Obviously I’m told about good reviews,” she adds.  “I know when it’s been a good show and I know when it’s been a bad show.  I don’t need an outsider to tell me.  I can come off stage and tell you how it was and what went wrong a lot faster than somebody else can say it.  I’m sure they say terrible things about it.  I don’t need it.  I don’t need to look at it.”  So, there!

Rivers currently can be seen enjoying the high life with some fellow hard workers in the TV Land series “How’d You Get So Rich?” “We go to their houses and we see all of their toys.  It’s fascinating how differently they spend their money. One man made all this money so he bought himself a Lamborghini for every day of the week,” she says.  “I think it’s very uplifting that in this day in age you can do it if you’ve got the right attitude and the right product.  But it teaches you a good lesson that you’ve got to work for it or win the lottery.”

A WEIGHTING GAME: Angie Dickinson was one of those perpetually perfectly lean ladies in her heyday on small and big screen, but now the still-beautiful septuagenarian complains that she’s 20 pounds overweight.  “If I lost 20 pounds I’d be more viable.  I’m serious about that,” she says.  “I watch ‘The Biggest Loser’ and I am so enamored of those incredible people, how they shame themselves and go through whatever it takes to get in shape.  I could no longer get out there in a little top and shorts.  They expose their worst sides and I admire them beyond belief – but I still don’t lose the weight.”

With reports by Emily-Fortune Feimster