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Michael J. Fox: I was 'too medicated' in campaign ads

David Edwards
Published: Friday October 27, 2006

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Actor Michael J. Fox gives CBS Evening News' Katie Couric an exclusive interview, defending his decision to appear in political advertisments to support stem cell research.

Fox explains why it's impossible to time the efficacy of the medication he takes for Parkinson's Disease.

Conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh had blasted Fox for "exaggerating the effects of the disease" in the ad by "moving all around and shaking," and theorized that he had either skipped his medication or was merely "acting."

"The irony of it is," says Fox, "I was too medicated."

A full transcript follows the video.


Katie Couric: How are you?

Michael J. Fox: Iím fine, thank you.

KC: You've been very busy these days. You've been campaigning for Claire McCaskell in Missouri, you have ads out for the Wisconsin governorís race. Tell me why you've decided to do this.

MF: Itís a long story. It goes back to 2000 when we first became aware of the potential of this science. I remember in 2000, I wrote a letter to then Governor Bush asking him to come through on his promise of compassion when he got to the office. And then he did limited stem cell in 2001ÖThis summer when then president vetoed the HRA10, which is the legislation (for) stem cell research, with one veto of his presidency chose to veto that, it really stung the hearts of a lot of people counting on this. I knew I'd be involved in 2006

KC: When you did the campaign ad for Claire McCaskill...I've interviewed you on a number of occasions. Tell us what you were experiencing that day and what we're seeing as a result?

MF: Well, on any given day I have a thousand different things I can feel. I go through a million cycles. For example, right now this is a dearth of medication, not by design. I just take it and kicks in when it kicks in. Sometimes it kicks in too hard and then you get what you call dyskinesia, which is that rocking motion.

KC: When you go from side to sideÖ and thatís actually caused by the medication?

MF: Thatís caused by the medication. What happens is when you I'm 15 years out from diagnosis, one of the problems with medication, one of the reasons they are looking for cures particularly for Parkinsonís is that the medication only has an efficacy that lasts so long and then at a certain point it ceases to, or it works with horrible side effects, which is the dyskinesia that you see. But on any given day, I canít design where I'm going to be at any given time. You just take the medication and hope for the best. If itís humid that day, if you get stressed that day, if you eat the wrong thing, if you have too much protein, it doesn't kick in. Itís just part of living with this. Itís funny the notion that you could calculate it for a fact. People with Parkinsonís out there, we're just kind of god, would that we could.

KC: In fact, Rush Limbaugh suggested you had failed to take your medication intentionally so when you did that ad youíd be more symptomatic and therefore, more sympathetic.

MF: The irony of it is, I was too medicated ÖThe thing about being symptomatic is itís not comfortable. Nobody wants to be symptomatic. Itís like you want to hit yourself with a hammer, you know, you want at all times to be as comfortable as you can be. And at this point now, if I didnít take medication I wouldn't be able to speak. Iíd have a mask face and I wouldnít be able to speak and I'd lock up and freeze and not be able to move. So there's no time I'm not medicated. Itís just a matter of titrating the medication to make sure it works as best it can. Itís constant throughout the day.. Iím saying, well, I'm going to do something at 2 o'clock so from about ten oíclock on itís all towards getting to where I need to be at 2. Itís the kind of stuff that people with Parkinsonís live with everyday.

KC: Could you have waited to do that ad when you had less dyskinesia, for example?

MF: Well, when do you know thatís going to be? You donít know when thatís going to beÖ.Funny, my mother was visiting that day, was in the backroom and she was saying throughout the filming of it -- and she was talking to my friends back there-- and she was saying "he's trying so hard to be still" and so she was the one actually when the comments were made, she was the only who was really angry and she said "I canít even see straight." I said ĎMom, just relax, itís okay, don't worry about it. But, itís just not that simple. Thatís why we're doing this. Not only people with Parkinsonís. People who have spinal cord injuries. People who have the ticking clock of ALS, where they waste away, kids who are born with juvenile diabetes, I mean, potentially thereís answers for those people and we're not interested in being exhibitionists with our symptoms or asking for pity or anything else. We're just resolved to get moving with this science. Itís been a long time. Itís not a time neutral observation. Itís not something we can sit back and abstractly talk about. While people are talking about it, there are people attached to this issue, which is one of the reasons I did this. Itís not necessarily the most comfortable thing for me to do and necessarily what I want to be doing. Iíve got 4 kids. I like to be spending time with them, but if it takes seeing a face that people recognize and say Ďhey, I know that guy,í maybe they'll realize that they know other people. There's 100 million Americans that are either touched by an incurable illness, or know somebody who has incurable illness, or love somebody who has incurable illness. Thereís 100 million Americans and most of the American population -- 70 percent -- favor this research because they know what it means. But what happens is you get to an election time and things fall away. And what I hoped was by being that guy that people would say, ĎHey, I know that guy,í that we'd 14 days out from an election, be talking about stem cells. And we are. And I'm greatly gratified. And if that means taking a beating from that faction of the media, you know, thatís fine. If bringing the message means the messenger gets roughed up a little bit, I'm happy to be that guy.

MF: No, I heard about it. You know, it's one of those things I heard about. My first thought was no, are you kidding me? And then I thought, well, you know I knew there'd be a swift reaction from some reporters and I knew there'd be that celebrity tag, which always kills me because the people who throw that celebrity tag around are themselves such huge celebrities and incredibly well paid celebrities, and you know, really have no more God-given right to have a platform than I do or any American does. We all have a right to speak up and say what we think is right and we all have a right to fight for things that we believe in, and I believe that science should move forward in this country. Science is a big part of the American story, and we need to start writing a new chapter. We've sat on our hands for years and ignored some really critical science, and I just think itís time we had a conversation about it and said, ĎWhat are the implications of this?í What kind of faith do we have in our scientists? Why are we not trusting them? Why are we not trusting our own morality as a nation, our own sense of ethics, to oversee this, to do the right thing (by it?) and to move forward and help people.

KC: Rush Limbaugh, I contacted him because I wanted to fairly represent what he was saying because he believes that that clip was played and his real issues were not represented. So he told me, I called Rush Limbaugh and he told me, "I believe Democrats have a long history of using victims of various things as political spokespeople because they believe they are untouchable, infallible. They are immune from criticism". He went on to say "Michael J Fox is stumping for Democrats in the political arena and is, therefore, open to analysis and criticism as we all are."

MF: Well, first thing, he used the word victim, and in another occasion, I heard him use the word ďpitiable. And I donít understand, nobody in this position wants pity. We donít want pity. I could give a damn about Rush Limbaughís pity or anyone elseís pity. I'm not a victim. I'm someone whoís in this situation. I'm in this situation with millions of other Americans, whether itís like I said, for Parkinsonís, or Alzheimerís, or ALS, or diabetes or spinal cord injury or what have you. And we have a right, if thereís answers out there, to pursue those answers with the full support of our politicians. And so I don't need anyoneís permission to do that. As far as democratic politics go, you know itís kind of funny, because the argument that I heard from that quarter, was first, that I was manipulating it, that I was a con-man essentially, and I didnít have the symptoms and was putting them on, so I was perpetrating fraud. And when he backed off then, then it became that I was a dupe of the, a shill for the Democrats, that I was being exploited. And the truth is, I've been involved with this issue since 2000. And in the meantime, separate and apart from my political involvement, I've started a foundation thatís raised $85 million for research and is the second leading fundraiser for Parkinsonís research after the federal government. And um, you know, I'm not a Johnny-come-lately. No one plucked me off the apple cart to come and do this. I mean, I believe in this cause. Iíve put a lot of my life and energy into it, and we're serious about it.

KC: You have said before, this is a bi-partisan problem that requires a bi-partisan solution.

MF: Disease is a non-partisan problem that requires a bi-partisan solution.

KC: Would you support a Republican candidate?

MF: I have. Arlen Specter is my guy. I've campaigned for Arlen specter. He's been a fantastic champion of stem cell research. I've spoken alongside Mike Castle, who's a Republican Congressman. Absolutely. This is not about red states and blue states. This is not about Democrats and Republicans. This is about claiming our place as the scientific leader in scientific research and moving forward and helping our citizens. Thatís all it. Itís that simple.

(CBS) KC: I want you to help people understand something. What about research on adult stem cells?

MF: Itís fantastic.

KC: What about research on stem cells that have been culled from embryos and may be able to be produced synthetically. In other words, this is such a political hot potato as you well know.

MF: The point of it is that the cells that we're not using, that are being wasted, hundreds of thousand of cells that are left over from in-vitro fertilization are being thrown away, are being wasted they are not going to become life, they are being thrown away so in that sense people say protecting the unborn, they are going to be destroyed anyway- so lets use those cells to protect the unborn that are gonna be born with diabetes that are going be born with pre- genetic disposition Alzheimer's or Parkinson's or are gonna be injured as children, or have spinal cord injury. That's the pro-life position because those cells are going to be wasted that's what people need to understand- where was the outcry when in-vitro fertilization was started 20 years ago- cause this has been going on for 20 years hundreds of thousands of these cells have been destroyed ever year for 20 years and all we're saying is if we're going to do that Lets use that to help people, let's use that to save lives

KC: What about other people who say, ĎListen, this can be done in the private sector? Why not take politics of it, why not take it out of the government's hands?

MF: Well, the government builds these roads, the government builds us things to keep us safe - an integral part of society. And I think our health, is an integral part of society- itís an economic factor, it's a social factor. It has to do with a cultural factor. Our health as a nation is integral to the future of this country and to not make an investment in that is crazy- the private sector can put a lot of money into this issue but not if the researchers are not free to do the research. The federal government can throw more money at these things by accident than the private sector can do purpose and when you look at comparative costs, when you think of bridges to nowhere in Alaska and stuff, you don't have to think too long "boy that could've save a few lives"

KC: A recent CBS news survey said 59 percent of Americans support embryonic stem cell research. You mentioned 70 percent. Do you think this has the political mojo, if you will, to really motivate people to go out and vote?

MF: You know what, I don't really care about politics. I just hope it resonates with people. And they realize there are decisions to be made. Either way, you look at an ad, like we did for Claire, for McCaskill. You can look at that ad, and because it's a direct recitation of the facts, it's very verifiable, and you can verify every fact that's in there. It's as much a campaign ad for Jim Talon as it is for Claire McCaskill because if you believe that those things should be opposed, that you just heard, hen you got your guy. We're confident that most people see it the other way. And that is just honest politics. We want to appeal to voters to elect the people that are going to give us a margin, so we can't be vetoed again. It passed through both houses, it went to the president's desk.

KC: That was the expansion of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research.

MF: They are so limited right now. There are also limited lines. There is only 16 or so lines that are available for research. They are precluded by the amount of cells. They are not viable. So we are really at a standstill. It would open it up and get it going. And it was supported by the public, both houses. And the president, like I said, used his one and only veto to kill it. And if that doesn't incite you, as a citizen, with a stake in this, to step forward and exercise your franchise, then I don't know what is. So it's not really political in the sense, that it's not a game, it's not a trick. Look at this. This is the decisions we are making right now. We are talking about some really tangential issues. And slinging some really silly mud about this, about whatever, about whose uncle got who a job in 1982. Or, you know, so and so go out with strippers. You know, we are talking about saving lives. I mean, it doesn't get bigger than this, this is not politics, this is life.

KC: Are you going to be doing more of this? First of all, let me ask you this: is this tough for you to do? MF: It's tough. It's hard on my wife too, she is taking one for the team. She's got the four kids at home, and gets them off to school everyday and all that so.

KC: But as your symptoms become more severe and the medication becomes less efficatious as the years go by, how tough is this for you to sit here and talk to me like this?

MF: Honestly, I mean, I really feel this: That you get in your life very few chances to make a difference. And I really feel privileged to do this that I get a chance to do this. But having said that, itís not pretty. Itís not pretty when it gets bad. Iíve learned to throw vanity out the window. Iíve had enough years of people thinking I was pretty and teenage girls hanging my picture on walls. Iím over that now. So itís tough to so some things, but as I said, the chance to just get people for 2 minutes, to go. This is big. This is not a wedge issue, this is not a thing. This is like who we are as a county and how we feel about our people and about the majority and respecting the minority, but moving forward with what they need and what they want. I want to make that point too, that people that are against stem cell research, embryonic or otherwise, whatever, I couldnít respect them more and they prayed on it and theyíve thought about and they canít get their head around it or their heart around it, then great, fantastic. I admire them and I respect them. All I have to say to them respectfully, if there was a majority that all prayfully and thoughtfully and emotionally and intellectually and in every other way, weighed this and cam eon the other side, and said ĎNo, I think this is the right thing to do,í to very carefully tread these waters, to save these lives, then you have to respect that too. And I donít resort to name-calling or inflammatory language or, mocking, or whatever you need to do to just have a discussion about it. And weíll see what happens.

KC: Have you seen the ad that your opposition in Missouri, a conservative group in Missouri put out an ad, with (the man) who played Jesus in the Passion of the Christ?

MF: I haven't seen any of this stuff. I've been hitting the road, so I haven't seen a lot of..

KC: Have you heard about it, right?

MF: I wouldn't look at them as my opposition, really, they just have a different point of view. But I haven't seen it, do you want to show it to me?

KC: Yeah, actually, we have it, let's take a look


MF: There is one thing that Jim the quarterback..

KC: Don't ask me

MF: The quarterback for the Rams, now the Cardinals I guess. He said it may not happen for 15 years. I had dinner, lunch with a 17 year old girl from Ohio, who has Parkinsonís, and is very symptomatic. She'll be in her early 30's in 15 years, and I don't think she'd write that off as a long time. I think if we can tell her in 15 years, that we'd have an answer for her in 15 years, I don't think she'd treat that lightly. I think that would give her strength and hope to hang on.

KC: Those were some pretty scary things that they said in that ad.

MF: Sure...and

KC: Women dying, fertility clinics paying women for their eggs, etc.

MF: Yeah, I invite people to look into that. And make up their mind. It's frustrating because it's the thing you constantly run up against. I've been talking about hope, I've been talking about progress, I've been talking about research in America, and the American story, American spirit. And I haven't said much negative at all. It's positive, it's not about negativity. But you always hear. The counter is always: Death, poverty, destruction, despair, baby-killing. I mean, I'm not interested in hurting women, and killing babies.

KC: But I think it raises the point that some people are concerned about this science because they feel that it's a slippery slope. And that there won't be enough oversight or regulation. What's your response to that?

MF: My response to that is that a lot of things that they warn us about. See it's hard, I've just seen that ad once, so I can't specifically speak to the text of it. But, arguments that one hears, in legislation that was passed and the president vetoed, and in other measures across the country. There are strict restrictions against human cloning, against egg farming. It's kind of like saying, you want to kill my dog. And I'm saying I don't want to kill your dog. I've made it clear I don't want to kill your dog.

I mean, they keep coming back to this thing that doesn't exist. As far as the other stuff goes, as far as being slippery slope, everything is a slippery slope. Getting up in the morning is a slippery slope. You apply your best sense of intelligence and ethics, and planning and foresight, and oversight, into what you do. I mean, like I said, our why we have this lack of faith in our scientific community, I don't know. They have done such wonderful things for us over the years. Why people think they are automatically going to have some kind of ethical breakdown. And create monsters or hurt people. That is not their intention. Their intention is to move forward, and to progress. And is something that you have to do carefully? Yes. And it is something that you have to do advisedly? Yes.

Is it something you have to do with foresight and contingencies, with fallbacks and all those other things that go with it? Yes. But why do we believe that they wouldn't do that? And we'd legislate it in to the extent that it's practically impossible not to. And we have faith in the human conscience.

KC: Michael J Fox. Thank you for coming in today.

MF: : Thank you, thanks for the opportunity.