"I'm telling you, this is not the kind of face you'll ever see on a lunch box," TV executive Brandon Tartikoff famously said after casting Michael in hit series Family Ties. A few years later, after Back To The Future had made him a household name, a triumphant Michael sent the exec a lunch box with his face on it.
Michael Andrew Fox was born in Edmonton, Alberta, on June 9, 1961, the fourth of five children, to William Fox, a military man, and actress mother Phyllis. As a child it was music rather than acting which first caught his imagination when, as an eight-year-old, he received a guitar for Christmas and taught himself to play. When he was in his teens the family relocated to Vancouver, where fellow pupils at the local school included future rocker Bryan Adams. Although he continued to play guitar in garage bands, when he quit school early it was to pursue an acting career rather than a musical one. "I had all the usual ambition growing up," he recalls. "I wanted to be a writer, a musician, a hockey player. I wanted to do something that wasn't nine to five. Acting was the first thing I tried that clicked."
His first major foray into the industry came in 1976 when, aged 15, he won a role in Canadian TV comedy series Leo And Me. More sure than ever where his future lay, he decided to aim for the big time and three years later moved to Hollywood. There, his gamble was rewarded with a part in the TV movie Letters From Frank. A host of film roles followed, including Midnight Madness and Class Of 1984, as well as guest roles on TV series Lou Grant and Trapper John MD.
Initially credited as Mike Fox, he was forced to add an initial in order to register with the Screen Actors Guild after discovering the name was already in use by another actor. Rather than using his own initial he chose J, in honour of his idol, veteran character actor Michael J Pollard.
Like many young actors he suffered dry spells - periods he refers to as his "macaroni days", since budget meals were all he could afford - but his luck turned when, in 1982, he landed the part of Alex on Family Ties.
The role brought an impressive haul of awards - three Emmys and a Golden Globe and had a significant impact on his personal life when he fell for Tracy Pollan, who played his girlfriend Ellen Reed during the 1985 to 1986 season. They wed on July 16, 1988, and their first child, Samuel Michael, was born the following year. The young family quickly expanded with the birth of twin daughters Aquinnah and Schuyler in 1995 and youngest daughter Esme in 2001.
During his seven-year stint on Family Ties Michael started building on his film career and in 1985 scored perhaps his best known movie role - as Marty McFly in the sci-fi flick Back To The Future. The flick and its two sequels propelled the youthful-looking actor into a whole new orbit. Other movie projects had a mixed reaction, however. It was another TV series, Spin City - in which he portrayed the deputy mayor of New York - that returned him to the limelight in 1996.
While his career was once more on the up, Michael was struggling with a tragic secret he had developed Parkinson's disease. Although diagnosed while filming Doc Hollywood in 1991 he kept the condition under wraps for seven years until he could no longer disguise the symptoms. He continued to work, however, lending his vocal talents to the title character Stuart Little in the 1999 animated children's movie. With his symptoms becoming more intrusive, in January 2000 he quit Spin City to concentrate on helping find a cure for the illness through the Michael J Fox Foundation.
In 2002 he released a memoir titled Lucky Man reflecting on his eventful life. "I'm so blessed with a great family, and I've had success in my career," he says. "I feel this is a really unique opportunity for me to help out and try to effect change." Certainly his heroic efforts have led to an outpouring of support from his fans. "It's been so wonderful to realise that people care about you in a very deep way and that there is some bond between an actor and his audience," he wrote.