Actor Michael J. Fox opens up to Larry King

Actor, author and Parkinson’s disease activist Michael J. Fox spoke with CNN’s Larry King on Wednesday.

In the interview, Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991, talks about his new book, which he describes as “a memoir of the last 10 years.” In it, he explores the nature of optimism. He also talked about his family, a new approach to acting and President Obama’s lifting of a ban on stem cell research, among other things. Here are some excerpts from the show. Larry King: He’s founder of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. He’s a best-selling author — the new book is “Always Looking Up.” By the way, he has got an ABC special, “Michael J. Fox: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist.” It airs on May 7. You remain — is it easy to be an optimist Michael J. Fox: Well, for me it’s second nature. It’s just the way I look at life. And it’s certainly a challenge now for most people to be optimistic, obviously, with all of the troubles we have and the problems that the country is facing. But I think it’s exactly in those times when our optimism kicks in highest gear. I think — there’s an expression that I like that I always use: “Don’t wish for a lighter load, wish for broader shoulders.” And I think that people are really — I see a lot of broader shoulders these days, people are really working on the delts, you know

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King: What was it like when you were diagnosed Fox: Well, you know, it’s hard to describe it, because I was so young, I was 29 years old. And so Parkinson’s is not what you expect to hear. I had a twitch in my pinky and I figured it was some kind of nerve damage or I’d done something probably athletic. … But then I got this diagnosis, and I thought the guy was kidding. And then it was shock, and then I had a certain amount of fear and I started to react to it in certain ways. I started drinking more heavily as a way of self-medicating it. And it took me — you know, it’s funny, because I sit and talk about “Always Looking Up” and being optimistic, and accept the losses and move on or find new gains, but it took me about seven years, I think, to really get to the point where I could tell people about it. … I was diagnosed in ’91, and it wasn’t until ’98 that I admitted publicly that it was a situation I was facing. King: It is not life-threatening, is it Fox: No. And I would say you don’t die from it, but you — up to now, you’ll definitely die with it if you have it. … King: Why did you write the book Fox: The book was — I wrote the first book because I had to, I think I had to kind of tell that story just for myself, just kind of to acknowledge all of the work that I had done on getting through that journey. And then this book was — I thought about writing another, and I thought about people responding so positively to the optimism in the first book. And so many people wanted to talk to me about that.

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So I thought, well, optimism: What is optimism And so I started to think about it more kind of empirically, writing a book about optimism as a subject, and interviewing researchers about it and talking to people who are optimistic and traveling to places where people are optimistic and all of this stuff. … So I had to kind of tell it — I couldn’t tell, talk about optimism without — and separate it from my experience. I had to make it part of my experience. So then, having done that, and written this book, which is really a memoir of the last 10 years, I still have these questions about optimism. So I went to ABC and I said, ‘There was a thing I was going to do a book on, but I’d like to do a documentary special on.’ And they said, great. And so we’ve been traveling around, talking to optimists. We went to Bhutan, which is a country in the Himalayas that actually measures its gross national happiness along with its GDP. King: Really Fox: Yes. And it makes decisions on its development as a country based on how to affect the happiness of the people. And the people are uniformly happy. It’s amazing. … King: Speaking of optimism, in March, President Obama lifted the ban on federal financing for embryonic stem cell research. You’ve long fought for that. You’ve got to feel like a — it has come true. … Watch Fox’s talk about the lifting of the ban » King: When you act, is it hard Fox: Oh, yes. I don’t have any access to the same tool kit that I always had. But it’s like anything. It’s like, you find new ways of doing things. And in those new ways, you maybe are able to do things you couldn’t do before in ways you might not have approached before. And that’s my whole kind of philosophy of life is — in dealing with Parkinson’s or any kind of setback or loss, is that if you avoid it or it creates a hole that you try to fill up with other stuff, with your ego and your needs and your wants and your control issues, then you’re just going to dig deeper in a hole. But if you just recognize, ‘look, it is what it is’ — now what’s around it I mean, the only thing that I don’t have a choice about is whether I have Parkinson’s. Everything else I have a choice about. … Fox explains how he handles the bad days »

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King: Parts of your book are a love letter to your wife, Tracy. Without being saccharine, how important has she been Fox: I couldn’t have made the journey that I’ve made without her. And certainly I wouldn’t have this family that I have. And three-quarters of our children were born after the diagnosis. And we knew what we were facing, what we were dealing with, and had some sense of what the prospects were, although they’ve turned out a lot better than we could have imagined. I mean, I’m 20 years after diagnosis, and there’s very little that I don’t do now that I used to do. I still travel with my kids, and I’m with them part of the day, every day.

King: How old are they now Fox: My oldest is 19 — he’ll be 20 next month. And the twins are going into high school next year; they are 14. And then I have a 7-year-old.