Parkinson’s disease signs as Michael J Fox gets BAFTA standing ovation

Michael J Fox at the Baftas after he first revealed he had Parkinson's disease in the 1990s
Michael J Fox first revealed he had Parkinson's disease in the 1990s. (Getty Images)

Michael J Fox made an unexpected appearance at the 2024 BAFTAs, bringing some at home viewers to 'tears'.

The actor, 62, presented the award for Best Film - ultimately won by Oppenheimer - with one social media user saying that they were in "floods of tears" while watching the Back to the Future actor.

Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the 1990s, and rarely makes public appearances. A documentary about him, Still: A Michael J Fox Movie, was nominated for best documentary but lost to 20 Days In Mariupol.

"There's a reason why they say movies are magic because movies can change your day," he said as he presented the award. "It can change your outlook. Sometimes it can change your life."

According to the NHS, Parkinson's disease affects 128,000 people in England, and Parkinson's UK says it is the "fastest growing neurological condition in the world".

Fox's appearance comes months after new research found that an AI-powered eye scan could help to detect Parkinson's disease up to seven years before diagnosis, new research has found.

Researchers at University College Hospital and the Moorfields Eye Hospital used artificial intelligence to identify markers of Parkinson’s in eye scans.

It is the the largest study to date on retinal imaging in Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative condition that affects 145,000 people in the UK.

In recent years this method has been used to detect other neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and even schizophrenia.

"While we are not yet ready to predict whether an individual will develop Parkinson’s, we hope that this method could soon become a pre-screening tool for people at risk of disease," lead author Dr Siegfried Wagner said.

"Finding signs of a number of diseases before symptoms emerge means that, in the future, people could have the time to make lifestyle changes to prevent some conditions arising and clinicians could delay the onset and impact of life changing neurodegenerative disorders."

Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease. (Getty Images)
It took Michael J. Fox years to share he had Parkinson's disease publicly. (Getty Images)

This news comes after a previous study found that thinking that somebody is standing behind you when they’re not could be an early sign of Parkinson’s disease.

Experiencing a strong sensation that a person is behind you, when no one really is, is known as a ‘presence hallucination’.

Researchers at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, warned these hallucinations appear in a third of Parkinson’s patients before the onset of trembling and other motor symptoms begin. Once the motor symptoms have started, hallucinations affect half of all patients.

Writing in Nature Mental Health, experts discovered patients recently diagnosed with the disease who experience the hallucinations are more likely to have a rapid cognitive decline.

The disease is traditionally defined as a movement disorder, with typical motor symptoms including resting tremor, rigidity and slow movements, but it also leads to a wide variety of non-motor symptoms.

Celebrities with Parkinson's disease

Fox shared the story behind his ongoing health battle with the condition in a Netflix documentary last year. He was first diagnosed with early onset Parkinson's in 1991.

Despite his acceptance of his diagnosis, he said honestly: "Parkinson’s is still kicking my ass. I won’t win at this. I will lose." But, he added, "There’s plenty to be gained in the loss."

Other celebrities who have spoken about living with Parkinson's disease include Jeremy Paxman, Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Connolly.

Jeremy Paxman during The Business of News - John Witherow in Conversation with Jeremy Paxman as part of Advertising Week Europe, Picadilly, on March 23, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images for Advertising Week)
Jeremy Paxman was diagnosed with Parkinson's after a doctor noticed his symptoms on TV. (Getty Images)

What is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson's disease is a condition where parts of the brain become progressively damaged over many years, the NHS says.

It is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the substantia nigra (a part of the brain), which leads to a reduction in dopamine (known as one of the 'happy hormones').

More specifically, dopamine also helps to regulate the movement of the body, with a lack of it responsible for many of the symptoms of the disease.

Who is most at risk of Parkinson's disease?

It is unclear exactly what causes the loss of nerve cells that leads to Parkinson's, but many experts think it is a result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

While Parkinson's can run in families due to 'faulty genes' being passed on by a parent, it is rare for it to be inherited this way.

Parkinson's disease affects roughly one in 500 people in the UK. Most people with the condition start to develop symptoms when they're over 50. That said, around one in 20 people also first experience symptoms when they're under 40.

Men are slightly more likely to get the disease than women.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome GBS, Peripheral Neuropathy pain in elderly patient on hand, fingers, sensory nerves with numb, muscle weakness from chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy
A tremor can be a telltale sign of Parkinson's disease. (Getty Images)

Parkinson's disease symptoms

There are three main symptoms of Parkinson's, which are:

  • involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body (known as a tremor)

  • slow movement

  • stiff and inflexible muscles

Someone with Parkinson's disease can also experience a variety of other physical and psychological symptoms, including:

  • depression and anxiety

  • balance problems (this may increase the chances of a fall, which could help to explain Paxman's accident, for example)

  • loss of smell (known as anosmia)

  • sleeping problems (insomnia)

  • memory problems.

The 'Parkinson's mask' – previously referred to by Paxman – is known as 'facial masking' or 'hypomimia', which links to the stiffness of muscles some people experience.

Nurse Linda, from the Parkinson's UK helpline, explains on the charity's website that the lack of dopamine in the brain can stop your facial muscles from working how they used to.

When this happens, people can look like they have a blank expression, even if they are experiencing a strong emotion. Having a Parkinson's mask is a common symptom and it doesn't mean someone with the condition is necessarily feeling low or depressed – they just can't use their facial muscles to correctly express themselves.

Many people with Parkinson's also report problems with apathy (lack of interest) and motivation, which means they might not respond to emotions like they used to.

Man speaking to doctor
Don't delay in speaking to your doctor if you're worried about potential symptoms of Parkinson's disease. (Getty Images)

Help with Parkinson's disease

If you are concerned you have any Parkinson's disease symptoms, see a GP.

While there is no cure, you can help manage Parkinson's by:

  • taking medication

  • staying active

  • monitoring your symptoms

  • exploring different therapies

  • in some cases brain surgery

For more information on the condition:

  • Visit the NHS website's section on Parkinson's disease

  • Visit the Parkinson's UK website, the main support and research charity for the disease or contact them on the free helpline 0808 800 0303 or email on

Parkinson's disease: Read more

Additional reporting PA and SWNS.

Watch: Billy Connolly on dealing with Parkinson's disease: Comedian says he has learnt to 'hypnotise' his hand when it shakes