Live @ Lotusphere 2012: Michael J. Fox Comes Back From The Future
I woke up this morning in spite of the assistance of my alarm clock, a small Casio gizmo I bought 15 years ago in the U.K.
My little Casio has kept me from missing many a meeting and flight, but today she failed me.
So I can only say it must have been fate that I made it downstairs in time to see the musical kick off of OKGo, and shortly thereafter, the guest speaker for the opening session of Lotusphere.
Of course, if you know anything at all about Lotusphere, you know the lore behind the guest speakership. It’s a closely-held, top secret until the very last minute, and even then within the IBM whispermill, you probably didn’t hear right.
Me, I’ve learned to roll with it, and just not worry about who the guest speaker is, which is why I’m so incredibly glad my body clock told me to get up when it did, because this year’s Lotusphere guest speaker was truly special.
You might remember him from “Family Ties,” for which he received three Emmys and a Golden Globe.
You might remember him as Marty McFly from the “Back to the Future” trilogy.
Or you may have seen him most recently as attorney Louis Canning on one of my my new favorites, “The Good Wife.”
But however you remember Michael J. Fox, he’s not one to let you easily forget.
As soon as fellow Canadian and Lotus GM Alistair Rennie announced Fox’s name this AM, there was a roar from the crowd and an immediate standing ovation.
And for those who know Fox’s backstory — his early and celebrated thespian success, his diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease at the ripe old age of 29 — well, you could easily have found yourself among them.
I know I did.
Fox himself has admitted in his first book, Lucky Man, how it took him seven years to accept his diagnosis, and through a thalamotomy and ongoing treatment with Sinemet, he’s been able to manage the disease.
But from his discussion this morning before the Lotusphere audience, it was obvious he’s also transcended it. He’s refused to let the disease define him, and just like his role on “The Good Wife,” he’s allowed it to simply just become another part of him. Nothing less, nothing more.
As for Fox’s message to the audience, we’ll get to that, but know it was artfully woven between the conceit of one funny joke after another, so before long you’re thinking, “if this famous gentleman with Parkinson’s Disease can stand there and tremor and laugh at the same time, what the hell kind of problems am I having today??”
And in fact, that was part of Fox’s message. Known for his eternal optimism, he shared a story of a woman who, in the midst of some major flooding in Mozambique, had to scramble to the safety of a tree to deliver her baby, in the tree and above the rushing waters.
Fox then forcefully re-emphasized the storyline here: A lady…had a baby…in a tree!
Fox had some simple truths that he also shared, for acting and for life. For one, as an actor, you can never play the result. If they’re about to throw a pie in your face, it has to be as big a surprise to you as it is to them.
Two, life is all about possibliities. You may feel your life is certain and set and headed in one direction and you’re going to play a certain role and…well, then suddenly, it’s not.
What do you do then?
Fox has done quite a bit, actually. He’s been a strong advocate for Parkinson’s research, including stem cell therapy, and The Michael J. Fox Foundation was created specifically to help advance every promising research path to curing Parkinson’s.
He’s also testified before Congress, purposely skipping his medication that day in 1998 so that the legislators could see the full impact of the disease.
A very different kind of bravura for a very different kind of performance.
So what has all this to do with the matter of social business? Fox turned to online communities when he first received his diagnosis, and after going public with Barbara Walters and in People magazine, he realized the positive impact his going public was having on others.
He could sneak into chatrooms and compare his experience with others, and realized quickly this was his opportunity to reshape his own destiny.
Remarkedly, we have all been the beneficiary of both: His commitment to improving the world through Parkinson’s research, and in his continued commitment to acting (if you’ve not seen Fox in “The Good Wife,” now would be a good time to get introduced).
These days, his “Foxtrot Finder” is helping connect Parkinson’s patients to clinical studies. So, social business has everything to do with Fox’s endeavors, as it’s helping patients who need help come out from behind the shadows and get it.
Finally, back home, to Canada, to hockey. Like many young Canadians, Fox was a hockey nut, and Bobby Orr was his celebrated idol.
Many years into his celebrity, Fox was invited to play in a celebrity old timer hockey match, and when he came face to face with his idol, he was speechless.
Then, at one point in the match, Fox approached Orr rapidly on the ice and was able to sneak the puck between his legs and into the net.
Only later did Fox realize that that’s probably what Orr was explaining to him before the game, that he was going to allow Fox to make that score.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps Michael J. Fox really did score a point on the infamous Bobby Orr.
Regardless, he absolutely scored with the Lotusphere audience this morning here in Orlando.
Though I’m not one to necessarily buy into inspirational talks, I walked out of Fox’s keynote feeling as optimistic as ever.
But I will admit to being just a little sad about my ever-faithful alarm clock shirking its duty!
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