Michael J. Fox received an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards in Los Angeles on Saturday. When he took the podium to accept the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his philanthropic work, he revealed keeping his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis secret — for years.
The 61-year-old was first diagnosed with the degenerative brain condition in 1991 when he was 29, according to People. He recalled Saturday entering “seven years of denial” and “trying to make sense of it all,” only for his illness to spur a newfound purpose.
“I told very few people, and they kept my secret,” said Fox during his speech.
“Then there were all kinds of doctors who helped me understand the physical processes that were at work, or not at work, in my brain, as the case may be,” he continued. “Finally, I felt like I needed to tell everybody. I understood it would have a huge impact on my career.”
“What happened next was remarkable,” added Fox. “The outpouring of support from the public at large, the beautiful reaction from all of my peers in the entertainment business, all of you, thank you, and the people that I worked with, was transformative.”
Fox was honored at the 13th annual ceremony alongside directors Euzhan Palcy and Peter Weir and songwriter Diane Warren, all of whom received standing ovations.
Fox recalled how “shitty” it was being told to have only 10 years left before the disorder took hold.
“That’s what happened,” he said. “The hardest part of my diagnosis was grappling with the certainty of the diagnosis and the uncertainty of the situation. I only knew it would get worse. The diagnosis was definite, the progress was indefinite and uncertain.”
Parkinson’s can first reveal itself with a mere tremor of the hand, according to Mayo Clinic. The disorder slowly takes hold of the whole nervous system, however, and can cause muscle stiffness, impaired speech, uncontrolled body movements and rhythmic shaking.
Fox said it “truly has been a gift,” however, and recalled his wife Tracy Pollan promising to stand by him. He became foocused on learning about the disorder, researching any and all available studies and discovering that “the science was ahead of the money.”
“The answers could be unlocked with the right investments,” said Fox during his speech.
Fox launched the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in 2000 in hopes of finding a cure. He revealed initially wanting to call the organization “PD Cure,” only for his wife to hilariously inform him this sounded a little too close to “Pedicure.”
“Then I reached out to the Parkinson’s community itself,” said Fox. “Patients, families and doctors, leading scientists in the field. And it struck me that everything I’d been given, success, my life with Tracy, my family, had prepared me for this profound opportunity and responsibility.”
Fox’s foundation has since raised more than $1.5 billion, according to its website.