An earlier version of this story was originally broadcast on November 27, 2020.
It's been 35 years since a bolt of lightning sent Michael J Fox back to the future. Hill Valley's clock never really recovered. The movie prop's hands are still stuck at 10:04, but the clock's been taken down from the perch that made it famous, at the courthouse square on the Universal Studios backlot, where correspondent Lee Cowan was conducting a virtual interview with Fox.
"Oh yeah, I knew that looked vaguely familiar," the actor said.
When we set out to talk to Fox a few months back, it wasn't about a film, but a friend – a furry one named Gus. At the time his "Great Dane-ish" pup was 12 – a senior citizen in dog years – but he was always there when Fox needed him.
Gus was featured prominently in Fox's 2020 book, "No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality" (Flatiron Books).
"You know that no matter your situation, no matter what you feel, this animal is with you and is connected to you, and you feel, it's a force multiplier," Fox said.
Gus had been by Fox's side almost half as long as Fox has been battling Parkinson's disease. Some days he needed Gus more than others. "It's very come-and-go, it's not off, literally on and off," said Fox.
"Good days, bad days?" asked Cowan.
"Yeah, and today I'm relatively on, but I'm too on, a little touch too much medication, because it's different every day – you get what you get."
Fox said Gus was a support animal in every sense of the word. He remembers returning from the hospital in a wheelchair after spinal surgery; it was Gus waiting at the door: "He kind of circles the wheelchair, with this low kind of woof woof, woof woof, and sat in front of the wheelchair right in front of me, and looked at me, and I said, 'It's gonna be okay.'"
Both knew it was a lie.
Cowan said, "Dogs just seem to get when you're not at your best, right? When you're not feeling right?"
"I know with Gus he does, he knows there's something different about me," Fox replied. "And your instinct when you have a chronic illness is, sometimes, to isolate and make your world as small as possible so you don't have as much to deal with. But a dog will open you up."
He swore the reason people would stop to talk to him during walks in Central Park was because of Gus, not because he's Michael J. Fox; there's probably truth in both.
It wasn't long after our interview, however, that Fox made the heartbreaking announcement that Gus was gone.
"Great dog and loyal friend," he posted on Instagram. "We'll miss you."
In Central Park you'll find a bench with a plaque. It reads: "For Mike Fox and Gus. True New Yorkers."
Fox's wife, Tracy Pollan, gave it to him years ago for his birthday. Now, it remains as a memorial to a friendship the depth of which the rest of us may never understand.
What's left are the memories that remind all of us of the restorative power of pets.
For more info:
- "No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality" by Michael J. Fox (Flatiron Books), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio Formats, available via Amazon and Indiebound
- Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research | How to donate
- Follow Michael J. Fox on Twitter and Instagram
Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Remington Korper.
- ("Sunday Morning," 10/27/17)
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