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‘If life changes, you change with it’

'If life changes, you change with it'

LOWELL -- Michael J. Fox is Canadian. He has been a Boston Bruins fan his entire life.

One of the benefits of being famous, Fox told a sold-out crowd at Middlesex Community College's Celebrity Forum Friday night at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, is being invited to do cool stuff like play in celebrity hockey games.

He was in the locker room in the Boston Garden when his team's coach, George Wendt ("Norm" from Cheers) pointed out Bobby Orr was headed their way. The game marked the first time Orr had skated in the Garden since retiring.

"I fulfilled a bucket-list dream. I met Bobby Orr, every Canadian kid's idol," Fox said.

Orr began speaking to Fox, who had no idea what he said. All he knew was Orr had acknowledged him.

During the game, Fox broke away, maneuvered the puck through Orr's legs and scored a goal. He beat Bobby Orr.

"Then I remembered what he had said: 'Near the end of the first period, put the puck through my legs and I'll let you score,' " Fox said, eliciting uproarious laughter from the audience.

During an hourlong speech, upon a stage adorned with props from his wide body of work, including a replica of the courthouse clock tower from Back to the Future, Fox shared several stories about life as one of the most iconic actors of his generation, interspersed with tales of how he has coped and lived with Parkinson's disease for the last two decades, creating a foundation that has raised nearly $300 million for research.

He promised the audience a night that would be a mix of Charlie Sheen's Torpedo of Truth Tour and Dr. Oz.

"If life changes, you change with it," he said.

It started with an uncontrollable tremor in his left pinky finger. Fox was in Florida shooting Doc Hollywood.

"I wrote it off as a hangover," he said. "Woody Harrelson was in that movie -- you don't even know. We would party all night, we were wrestling at one point."

He could not stop his finger from twitching; he looked at it in the bathroom mirror.

A couple of months later, he was in a New York doctor's office being told he had early-onset Parkinson's disease, but the "good news" was he probably had 10 years of acting left in him. He was 29 years old.

He did not accept that. Fox said it was like standing in the middle of a street with his feet in concrete, knowing a bus was coming, but not knowing when or how fast. You can feel the vibration in the street, but you never know when that bus is going to hit you.

For several years, he kept his diagnosis a secret from the public, fearing people would no longer find him funny if they knew he was sick.

He went public in 1998. The first three days were a media blitz and he thought he had made the worst mistake of his life, until he realized by attaching his name, face and fame to the disease, he had given it and all of the people suffering from it a voice.

Fox, now 51, said he heard from a woman with the disease who said once she heard he had it, she no longer felt embarrassed by her condition.

The disease has been a burden and a gift. It has made him appreciate his family and friends and spurred him to become an activist for scientific research.

"The brain is the final frontier," he said. "There is space, deep sea ... and brain. We don't know what is in there."

Asked by an audience member what Alex P. Keaton, the conservative teenage son of hippies he played on Family Ties, would think of today's politics and what he would be doing today, Fox said when he started his foundation he was surprised by the flurry of checks he received from Wall Street tycoons and hedge-fund managers.

"Then, I found out they all idolized Alex Keaton," he said. "I think Alex would be one of those hedge-fund managers who gives a lot of money to charity to ease their guilt."

As a gift of thanks for appearing at the Forum, which raises money for scholarships, MCC President Carole Cowan presented Fox with a blue MCC hockey jersey. He immediately took off his jacket, put on the jersey and threw his arms up in a victory salute worthy of the Stanley Cup finals.


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