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To Michael J. Fox, Trump’s Impression of a Disabled Reporter Was ‘A Stab to the Guts’
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Since going public with his Parkinson’s diagnosis 1998, actor Michael J. Fox has been an outspoken advocate for a cure and has raised $800 million for research through his foundation. He discussed his life and career in a new interview with The New York Times, and revealed just how he felt when then-candidate Trump mocked a disabled reporter.
When asked by Times reporter David Marchese if the Trump administration’s anti-science bent has affected the Michael J. Fox Foundation’s research, Fox replied that as “Trump is not sitting around thinking about Parkinson’s,” his election hasn’t changed the foundation’s “working relationship” with the government. But one ugly Trump moment from 2015 has stuck with the Back to the Future star:
One thing that angered me is when he mocked that reporter. That was a stab to the guts. Not just for me, but for people I know and work with, who try so hard to overcome other people’s atavistic aversion to anybody that moves differently. So I thought, Do I say something in response? Then I thought, People already know Trump is an [expletive].
Fox was referring to a moment at a South Carolina rally in which Trump appeared to mock Serge Kovaleski, a New York Times investigative reporter. Kovaleski has arthrogryposis, a joint condition that affects his hand and arm. “Now the poor guy, you ought to see this guy,” said Trump at the rally, before waving his hands in a cruel mockery of someone with disabilities.
Trump denied making fun of Kovaleski, issuing a statement in which he said that “despite having one of the all-time great memories,” he had no recollection of ever meeting the reporter. He said he doesn’t know what Kovaleski “looks like or his level of intelligence.”
“I don’t know if he is J.J. Watt or Muhammad Ali in his prime,” said Trump, “or somebody of less athletic or physical ability.”
New York Times reporters Serge Kovaleski and Ken Belson in 2010.
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Fox talked frankly about his health during the interview. In 1991, the actor was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a degenerative illness of the nervous system, and recently his health struggles have been compounded by spinal cord problems. “I was told it was benign but if it stayed static I would have diminished feeling in my legs and difficulty moving,” Fox told The Times. “Then all of a sudden I started falling—a lot.” He underwent surgery and performed physical therapy, but fell once more last summer and fractured his arm.
Despite such setbacks, he’s embraced his illness as part of his identity. When asked by The Times reporter whether his children found seeing their pre-Parkinson’s father in old films and TV shows “meaningful,” Fox replied that they did not. “If I see myself on TV I’ll maybe linger for a couple minutes,” he told the paper, “but my Parkinson’s is the same to my children as my being an activist is. It’s who I am.”
“Can I just keep going in this adventure?” he asked The Times. “Because if the worst I’ve had is as bad as it gets, it’s been amazing.”