On Point column: It's Limbaugh who 'is really shameless'

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Michael J. Fox would tell you that he is a lucky man. He has a beautiful family. He's made millions from an acting career that includes two hit television series and the successful "Back to the Future" movie trilogy. He even named his 2002 autobiography "Lucky Man: A Memoir."

Parkinson's disease didn't end his career -- he was nominated this year for an Emmy Award for his guest-starring role in ABC's "Boston Legal" -- but it surely impeded it. It's not easy watching Fox in public appearances. His torso twitches, his head bobs. He's a man not in control of his own body. His condition has noticeably worsened over the years, making the contrast even more stark between the 45-year-old of today and the hot young actor who became known to millions as Alex P. Keaton and Marty McFly.

One would strongly suspect that Fox had the financial wherewithal to gracefully bow out of the public spotlight years ago and spend his days with his wife and four children. Instead, he became an outspoken proponent of embryonic stem-cell research, which some scientists believe can help lead to a cure for Parkinson's and other diseases. Opponents condemn such research because it requires the destruction of a human embryo. A bill that would have loosened restrictions on stem-cell research was vetoed in July by President Bush -- his first veto since taking office in 2001. He said the bill "crossed a moral boundary."

Whatever one's politics are on the issue, a moral boundary was crossed this week when Rush Limbaugh alleged on his radio show that Fox was a phony by "exaggerating the effects of the disease" in a TV spot supporting Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill in her Senate campaign.

"He's moving all around and shaking," Limbaugh said, "and it's purely an act. ... This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting."

Added Limbaugh, "This is the only time I've ever seen Michael J. Fox portray any of the symptoms of the disease he has."

The commentator later offered a half-hearted apology, saying, "Now people are telling me they have seen Michael J. Fox in interviews and he does appear the same way in the interviews as he does in the commercial."

Limbaugh is naive and shockingly cruel. Fox certainly hasn't been in hiding since publicly disclosing his ailment in 1998. He created the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, which, according to its Web site, has generated more than $80 million in research funding since November 2000. The actor has been highly visible, using his celebrity to campaign for the cause and those who support it. He testified before Congress in 2002. Two years later he was a supporter of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, and in the weeks leading up to next month's national elections, he has been stumping for congressional candidates by appearing at fundraisers and in TV ads.

Limbaugh and others of his ilk are using Fox's own admission that he chose to appear before Congress four years ago without medication as a means to attack his credibility today. "For people who had never observed me in this kind of shape, the transformation must have been startling," Fox wrote.

That Fox chose to eschew the meds before the congressional appearance is less significant when you listen to the doctors who slammed Limbaugh this week for being uninformed. Several noted that Fox's medication actually causes some of his more erratic movements.

It's even harder to take Limbaugh seriously when he can publicly ridicule someone whose life has been forever altered by a ravaging disease -- one who has made it his purpose to find a cure.

Fox knows he is indeed a lucky man. He also knows that millions of others aren't as fortunate.
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