Michael J. Fox Accepts Prestigious TIME100 Award, Gives Moving Speech on Life with Parkinson’s

Actor and activist Michael J. Fox accepted the annual TIME100 Impact Award—which recognizes a global trailblazer who is pushing boundaries in their industry—at the 2024 TIME100 Gala at New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center on Thursday.

Following a Beyoncé-themed toast by actor Maya Rudolph, Willie Geist, co-anchor of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, introduced Fox at the star-studded ceremony. “Growing up, when I dreamed of someday meeting Michael J. Fox, it was while time-traveling with him in the DeLorean or playing basketball with his teenaged werewolf turned big man on campus—a plotline we kind of all just went along with because we loved Michael so much,” Geist recalled in his opener.

Geist reminisced about how he eventually met Fox many years later, after his father, Bill Geist, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “Where do you go after you get gutting news like that? You go to Michael J. Fox, a real-life hero to millions of Parkinson’s families like ours.”

Fox then took the TIME100 Gala stage and spoke about how he has come to relate the following stanza from Hughes Mearns’ “Antigonish,” one of his late father’s favorite poems, to his experience with early-onset Parkinson’s: “Yesterday, upon the stair/I met a man who wasn’t there/He wasn’t there again today/I wish, I wish he’d go away…”

“How is this relevant? It turns out it’s the perfect metaphor for young onset Parkinson’s,” Fox said. “I was climbing a golden staircase, minding my own business and suddenly I was blocked by something neither I nor anyone else could see. Time passed and no change. … I was doing a lot of hiding. One thing that wasn’t going to work though, was wishing it away.”

He went on to thank the doctors, scientists, researchers, and others working to help Parkinson’s patients climb the stairs to their future. “We now know we are dealing with not just a clinical approach to Parkinson’s disease, but a truly biological understanding of its symptoms, progress, and clues towards finding a cure sooner than we ever would’ve hoped for.”

Fox is recognized as one of the honorees on TIME’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. He is best known for his roles as Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies and Alex P. Keaton in the sitcom Family Ties. He’s worked on multiple film and television projects over the years, including the Stuart Little movies, The Good Wife, and The Good Fight. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991, which led him to officially retire from acting in 2020. In the 30-plus years since receiving his diagnosis, he has become an advocate for finding a cure and launched the Michael J. Fox Foundation to raise money for research.

Ryan Reynolds, who is a friend of Fox and is on the board of Fox’s foundation, on this year’s TIME100 list. The Deadpool actor wrote that he’s “lucky to call Mike a friend,” adding that Fox is “funny. He’s warm. He’s handsome and intensely smart.” Reynolds described Fox as “someone who helped my dad, along with millions of others, feel less alone” for being so open about his experience with Parkinson’s.

“He also falls a lot. Not just because he has Parkinson’s,” he wrote. “He falls a lot because he’s unafraid to fly.”

The TIME100 Gala is TIME’s annual celebration of the TIME100 list of the world’s most influential people. The Gala brings together icons, leaders, change-makers, and celebrities from across industries and nations for one lively evening of meaningful dialogue and celebration. This year’s Gala features live performances from Dua Lipa and Fantasia Barrino, two honorees on the 2024 TIME100 list.

TIME is teaming up with ABC to bring viewers inside the exclusive TIME100 Gala with a special television event. TIME100: The World’s Most Influential People, produced in partnership with P&G, airs Sunday, May 12 at 10 p.m. EDT on ABC, and the next day on Hulu, featuring host Taraji P. Henson and appearances by Patrick Mahomes, Maya Rudolph, and more.

The TIME100 Gala was presented by Booking.com, Citi, Merck, Northern Data Group, Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky, and Verizon.