Ryan Reynolds, Michael J. Fox team up to find Parkinson's cure

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By Lisa Flam

Ryan Reynolds and Michael J. Fox have been starring together for years now — not in front of the camera, but as friends united in the personal goal of finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease.

Reynolds got involved with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in 2008, and has since joined the organization’s board of directors. Like Fox, Reynolds’ father has had the disease for many years.

The actors sat down with TODAY’s Willie Geist, whose dad also has Parkinson’s, before the Fox foundation’s annual gala in New York on Saturday. 

Geist asked Reynolds if he remembered his father telling him and his brothers that he had Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease with motor symptoms that include tremors, rigidity and balance problems.

“I have a slightly different, weird, strange story about that because my father really hasn't ever said he has Parkinson's disease,” Reynolds said with a laugh, adding that his dad is in his 70s.

“He comes from a pretty prideful generation,” he said. “And he doesn't really talk about it too much. But, he’s maybe said it once or twice out loud.”

Still, Jim Reynolds’ 1995 diagnosis helped rally the family.

“It kind of galvanized everybody else, to sort of seek resources,” the actor said. “And for us, it's in a strange way, it's really kind of brought us together.”

Geist, whose father, “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Bill Geist, revealed his two-decade-old diagnosis in 2012, agreed that Parkinson’s can bring people together.

“If there's any upside to it, it's that it has rallied an awful lot of people,” Geist said.

Fox was diagnosed in 1991 at age 29 but didn’t announce it publicly until 1998. He recalled keeping his diagnosis to himself and close family members at a time when he was at the height of his career, with a growing family.

“It’s a degenerative, progressive disease,” Fox said. “And,” he added, “also there's shame in illness.”

Now, Fox said that in his house, his family — he and his wife, Tracy Pollan, have four children — helps him by pulling a chair out a little bit for him. Reynolds joked that maybe they were doing that so the TV and film star would fall to the ground.

Though they can laugh, they also serious about finding a cure for the disease, which affects an estimated 500,000 to 1 million Americans.

Geist noted that he wears a Fox foundation bracelet everywhere he goes. Reynolds said he was wearing “rubberized, galvanized Michael J. Fox underwear.”

As Fox has become almost as well known for being the force against Parkinson’s disease as he is for starring in “Back to the Future,” does he ever tire of being the public face of the disease?

“I really don't,” Fox said. “Once I made my diagnosis known, it’s been a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous privilege.”

For more information on the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, visit https://www.michaeljfox.org/

Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.