The Survivor

Wesley Mann

Michael J. Fox (13 noms, 5 wins)

When Michael J. Fox revealed in 1998 that he had been suffering from early-onset Parkinson's disease, most assumed his acting career was over. But he has stayed in the game. This year, he received his 13th Emmy nomination for a guest arc on the CBS drama The Good Wife. And in 2009, he bagged his fifth Emmy for playing the wheelchair-bound love interest of Tommy Gavin's wife, Janet, on Rescue Me. The prize earned Fox some facetiously chagrined ribbing from pal Denis Leary, the co-creator and star of the perpetually Emmy-snubbed series. "Yeah, he hates me," laughs Fox. "That show is the poster show for Emmy-neglected work." When Leary called Fox to ask him if he would do Rescue Me, explains Fox: "His idea for the character was this misanthropic, alcoholic, drug-addicted asshole. And I said, 'And what made you think of me?' And then Denis said, 'And the best part is, he's paralyzed.' And I said, 'OK, you're aware that I can't stop moving?' "The most noticeable side effect of treatment for Parkinson's is muscle tremors, a unavoidable reality that Fox has necessarily embraced in his work: For his role as wily litigator Louis Canning on Wife, his affliction was written into the storyline as the neurological disorder tardive dyskinesia, which Canning uses to disarm hostile witnesses and elicit sympathy from jurors. (He'll reprise the role for multiple episodes in the drama's third season as well.) "It's part of who I am," says Fox, who infused his condition again into playing a spoofier version of himself in Sept. 11's season finale of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm. "I can't act it away, so I have to incorporate it. I don't get to work that much anymore, so when I do, any kind of acknowledgment that it's watched and appreciated means a lot to me. It's truly one of those things where the nomination is the big prize." It's hard to imagine it's been 25 years since Fox, 50, won his first Emmy in 1986 for his role as Alex P. Keaton, the Reagan-worshiping oldest child of recovering hippies in the NBC comedy Family Ties (1982-89). That first win, he says, came during a career hot streak: Ties was a huge hit and he was also basking in the blockbuster success of the first Back to the Future movie. "It was a year where you were waiting for someone to bang on the door and say, 'Just kidding, give it all back.' " He would win three consecutive Emmys for Ties and credits his wife, Tracy Pollan -- whom he met when she joined the show in 1985 in a recurring role as Alex's girlfriend, Ellen -- for raising his game and getting him noticed by the Television Academy. "She was so good, and she brought me to a different place," he says. He won his fourth comedy Emmy for Spin City in 2000 -- his last year as a regular on the ABC sitcom and two years after revealing that he had been suffering from Parkinson's. Since then, he's raised millions of dollars for research through the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Finding a cure for Parkinson's, he says, has become his life's work. "When you live with a condition like this, it just becomes a part of who are."


Photographed by Wesley Mann on Sept. 7 at Edi & The Wolf restaurant in New York.