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Michael J. Fox leaves wheelchair in surprise appearance at BAFTAs

The "Back to the Future" actor, who lives with Parkinson's disease, got a standing ovation when he stood to present the BAFTA for best film.
Michael J. Fox leaves wheelchair in surprise appearance at BAFTAs
Posted at 4:20 PM, Feb 19, 2024

The room was full of celebrities, but the presence of one in particular brought an awestruck BAFTA audience to its feet.

Michael J. Fox surprised attendees at the London event Sunday night when he appeared on stage to present the award for best film, which went to Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer."

After being introduced by host David Tennant as a "true legend of cinema," the "Back to the Future" actor was brought to the podium in a wheelchair, but then stood, leading A-list celebrities like Ryan Gosling, Margot Robbie and Robert Downey Jr. to leap to their feet to cheer. 

"No matter who you are or where you're from, films can bring us together," Fox said before announcing the nominees. "There's a reason why they say movies are magic — because movies can change your day, they can change your outlook, sometimes it can even change your life."

SEE MORE: Christina Applegate gets teary as Emmys crowd gives standing ovation

The 62-year-old, who Tennant said was "the film star of the 1980s," has been living with Parkinson's disease since he was 29, and his journey with it was chronicled in the Apple TV+ film "Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie," which lost the BAFTA for best documentary to "20 Days in Mariupol" on Sunday.

Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements like shaking, stiffness and difficulty with coordination, according to the National Institute on Aging. Symptoms usually worsen over time and can cause mental and behavioral changes, memory difficulties, depression and more. 

Fox has shared how these symptoms have changed his life and career in interviews, in his 2020 book "No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality" and in "Still," particularly how he struggled with depression and denial while hiding his struggles for seven years after his diagnosis.

In those years, Fox has said he turned to dopamine pills to hide his symptoms and to alcohol to hide his fears. He eventually sought help, later creating The Michael J. Fox Foundation in 2000. Since then, his charity has raised some $2 billion to fund research for curing Parkinson's disease.

The five-time Emmy Award winner retired from acting in 2020 due to increasingly tough symptoms, including numerous injuries from falls and struggles with learning lines. But he's remained positive in recent years, telling Variety last year he's found acceptance despite his struggles.

"I recognize how hard this is for people, and I recognize how hard it is for me," he said to the publication. "But I have a certain set of skills that allow me to deal with this stuff. And I realized, with gratitude, optimism is sustainable. And if you can find something to be grateful for, then you can find something to look forward to, and you carry on."

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