When WebMD set out to present its very first Hall of Fame Health Hero award, the choice was not difficult. For the past 17 years, Michael J. Fox has been a tireless advocate for Parkinson's disease awareness and research. He launched one of the world's leading Parkinson's foundations, which has raised millions of dollars to help wipe out this devastating disease, and has taken an innovative approach to biomedical research. His significant contributions as an activist, philanthropist, and "honorary scientist" have given hope and a voice to people living with the disease and their families.
Fox learned he had Parkinson's in 1991, when he was just 30 years old and at the height of his acting career. He'd recently finished a successful run as Alex P. Keaton in the popular sitcom Family Ties and had starred in three Back to the Future movies. In 1998, Fox revealed his condition to the public. Two years later, he stepped down from his role on the TV show Spin City to devote his time to Parkinson's advocacy.
Later that same year he launched the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, which the New York Times has since called "the most credible voice on Parkinson's research in the world." Thanks in large part to Fox's unwavering dedication to the cause, his organization has raised more than $450 million to fund research on the disease. The foundation has also supported the development of groundbreaking treatments, working with pharmaceutical companies to make new drug compounds, and to speed these new therapies to market through clinical trials.
The good work continues. In 2015, the foundation launched an online clinical study, Fox Insight, and partnered with biotech company Sage Bionetworks on an iPhone app-based study of Parkinson's symptoms, called Parkinson mPower. The goal is to gather the world's largest set of data on how the disease affects people's everyday lives – an effort that could get more patients and families involved in the search for treatments.
Over the years, Fox has provided hope and help to millions of Americans with Parkinson's disease and other neurological conditions. Despite living with a chronic illness, he has remained ever positive. As he wrote in his memoir, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist: "For everything this disease has taken, something with greater value has been given -- sometimes just a marker that points me in a new direction that I might not otherwise have traveled."
For all of these reasons, Michael J. Fox is the true embodiment of a WebMD Health Hero. We were proud to name him the winner of our inaugural Hall of Fame Health Hero award.