Woody Harrelson says he and Michael J Fox drank cobra blood together in Thailand. Harrelson was giving a speech and introducing Fox at the 13th annual Governor’s Awards. Fox was the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
Woody Harrelson Honored “Brother” Michael J Fox at Annual Governor’s Awards
Woody Harrelson and Michael J Fox are true homies. This is clear now after listening to Harrelson give story after story about how their friendship developed. The Back to the Future star helped Harrelson land his first movie role and Harrelson was there when Fox was wondering if he should get checked for Parkinson’s disease.
The Hunger Games actor said that when Fox told him about the possibility that he may have Parkinson’s disease, he couldn’t believe it.
“He told me,” Harrelson said. “And I just couldn’t believe it because there’s such an invincible, superhuman quality about Mike. All of you who know him know that’s true. Well, he never missed a step, never wallowed in self-pity as I would have done. And instead, he turned a chilling diagnosis into a courageous mission.”
Speaking of Courageous Missions, Harrelson Had Quite the Story to Tell.
There was one time when Woody Harrelson was visiting Michael J Fox while he was filming Casualties of War. It was the late 80s and they were in Thailand.
“One night, Mike took us to the end of the jungle, and we stopped at this little hut. And Mike, you know, ran out of the car. This kid runs up to him and he hands him like, thousands of baht. Which probably amounted to about $16. And then the kid led him to this little space. It had a chest-high wall of concrete around it. And they both jumped over it.
“So, I run up to the wall and I couldn’t believe it. You know, I look in there and Mike is sitting next to this kid with dozens of cobras all around them ready to strike. No jest. And the kid was toying with these cobras. He would stick his knee in front of them. You know? And then the cobra would try to strike, and he’d just move his knee in time and then he’d smack them in the back of the head.
“He taunted a bunch of these cobras and then he found the orneriest cobra, grabbed it by the neck, threw it a cage with a mongoose, where I saw the craziest fight I’ve ever seen between any animals. Other than studio executives. You guys know I’m kidding, of course.
“And the mongoose won. They took the snake, tied it by its tail, wrung the blood out. Half-filled four glasses with cobra blood and half with Thai whiskey. Drinking the cobra blood is called ‘Becoming brother to the snake.’
“Mike and I drank lots of things together and he can hold his own. What can I say, he’s Canadian. But Mike promptly vomited his snake cocktail.”
“Never could hold his cobra blood,” Harrelson added at the end.
Fox’s Battle With Parkinson’s Disease Has Made Him One of the World’s Biggest Advocates for Change
Meanwhile, the entire audience including Michael J Fox was chuckling.
“Michael J Fox never asked for the role of Parkinson’s patient, disease advocate,” Harrelson added. “But make no mistake, it is his greatest performance. Michael J Fox sets the ultimate example of how to fight and how to live. Vulnerable? Yes. Victim? Never. An inspiration? Always.”
After Harrelson finished his introduction, Fox went up and gave his speech. He is clearly struggling with his Parkinson’s disease these days as his hand was violently shaking for much of his time at the podium. But Fox handled it like a champ and even played it up, occasionally looking at his right hand and joking, “Stop it!”
Parkinson’s disease is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a progressive disorder that affects the nervous system and the parts of the body controlled by the nerves. Symptoms start slowly. The first symptom may be a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand…. In the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, your face may show little or no expression. Your arms may not swing when you walk. Your speech may become soft or slurred. Parkinson’s disease symptoms worsen as your condition progresses over time.”
Michael J Fox was diagnosed with the disease when he was in his late 20s and told that he only had a decade left to continue working. He had already married his wife, Tracy Pollan, and had four children with her. He’d had an amazing story of rags to riches, from dropping out of high school in Canada and moving to Los Angeles to try his hand at acting. At one point in his younger days, Fox admitted, he’d even dumpster-dived to survive in Hollywood. But life was great, or as he said, “better better better.” He and Traci had their son, Sam, and three daughters, Esmé, Schuyler, and Aquinnah.
Fox’s Acceptance Speech Was Tear-Jerking, Humble, Humorous, Incredible
“Somewhere in there, around 29, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s,” said Fox. “I was told I only had 10 years left to work. That was sh*tty. And that’s what happened. The hardest part of my diagnosis was grappling with the certainty of the diagnosis and the uncertainty of the situation. I only knew that it would get worse. The diagnosis was definite, but the progress was indefinite and uncertain. Tracy made it clear that she was with me for the duration.”
“I entered into 7 years of denial, trying to make sense of it all,” he continued. “The kid who left Canada, convinced that he could make anything happen, especially by working hard and by believing, now had a tall order in front of him. I told very few people. And they kept my secret.”
At this point, Fox’s right hand is uncontrollably tapping the podium. “Stop it,” he says.
“Then there were all kinds of doctors who helped me understand the physical processes that were at work, or not at work, in my brain, as the case may be. Finally, I felt like I needed to tell everybody. I understood it would have a huge impact on my career. But by this time, I was doing Spin City…
“I had to figure out how best to deliver the news. So, I told Barbara Walters and People Magazine. Remember, this was at the dawn of the internet. And in those days if you wanted to get the news out, you’d go to People Magazine and Barbara Walters. Oh, for simpler times.”
Michael J Fox’s Legacy and Contributions to the Medical Field Earned Him the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award
Michael J Fox, amazingly, continued acting. While he may have stepped away in a sense, he’s never completely let his disease stop him from doing what he loves. He reappeared in Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2017 after first appearing in 2011. He played Ethan West in the TV series Designated Survivor in 2018. The following year, Fox played Mr. Lockhart in See You Yesterday. He played Louis Canning in two episodes of The Good Fight in 2020 and appeared in Lil Nas X’s “The Origins of Holiday” music video in 2020. Last year, he did voice work for a short film called Back Home Again.
But, as Woody Harrelson said, Michael J Fox’s “immense talent is surpassed only by the depth of his courage and his commitment to a cause.” That cause has been dedicating his life to research and awareness of Parkinson’s disease.
In 2000, Fox started The Michael J Fox Foundation. It was nine years after he publicly disclosed his diagnosis. Since its inception, the non-profit has raised over $1.5 billion for research and therapeutic development towards Parkinson’s disease.
It was for this work that Michael J Fox was awarded the prestigious and honorable Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The award is given to an “individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.” The award is formally an Oscar and moments from the ceremony will be incorporated into this year’s Academy Awards.
You can learn more about Parkinson’s disease and Michael J Fox’s Foundation by clicking here.