What It’s Like To Come Face-to-Face With Your ’80s Celebrity Crush
We talked for an hour!!
I’ve had the right guy smile at me maybe eight times in my life: a smattering of then-boyfriends in the early dating phase, an unrequited love here and there, and a few strangers. Oh, and Michael J. Fox on Sept. 24, 2020 — right after I told him that I learned a lot about him from reading his latest memoir. I smiled back, thoroughly relieved that I was three decades removed from wearing braces, and praying that he couldn’t detect that my inner-tween was shrieking.
I interview celebrities for a living, which means that I am inherently fascinated by famous people but not necessarily in awe of them. I’m aware that we’re both talking to each other because we have a job to do, not because we’re besties. I don’t ask for autographs or take selfies. So, I’ve established the fact that I’m a professional journalist, right? You believe me? Good. Now I can reveal that I jumped up and down, The Price Is Right-style, when I was assigned a story to interview Michael J. Fox. “I’m interviewing my No. 1!!!” I texted Julie, my actual bestie of 40 years. She didn’t bother guessing. After all, I made her see Back to the Future with me in the theater during the summer of 1985 because it starred That Cute Guy From Family Ties. I was 9.
Can you blame me for my way-enthusiastic response? No matter how old we are or where we land on the current relationship spectrum, our celebrity crush always holds a special place in our collective hearts. A crush — always smiling directly at you from the pages of a glossy teen magazine, always charming in a nonthreatening way — served as a gateway to the complicated world of the school dating scene. For you, it may have been Kirk Cameron, Scott Baio, Alfonso Ribeiro or New Kids On The Block. For me, it was Michael J. Fox. The boyish handsomeness mixed with killer comic timing hooked me. I watched his movies on a loop, despite not totally understanding the adult content. When I was 11, I bought his 1987 cover of People and then stashed it in my bedroom drawer because he said in the story that he wanted to marry a Jewish girl. (Little did I realize he was referring to his future wife, Tracy Pollan.)
I never did throw away my January 1988 issue of Tiger Beat. It’s only fitting that on the morning of the interview, I had the nerves of someone about to go to her first school dance. The 15-minute meditation app on my phone was amateur hour for the butterflies. I texted Julie that I felt like my teeth were about to fall out. But I wasn’t just stressed that I’d get generic answers or that I’d screw up the technology (because of social distancing, we had to do it over Zoom): I was panicked over the possibility of disappointment. I had held this actor-turned-Parkinson’s disease activist in such high regard for so long — I legit screened Teen Wolf during my swanky 40th birthday party — that I feared the experience of making eye contact and engaging in a 1:1 conversation wouldn’t match the hype in my head.
I saw his assistant first, who asked me if I was “ready for Mike.” Rhetorical question. Then she moved the computer. There he was, wearing a vintage Late Night with David Letterman T-shirt. Ohmygod, I immediately noted to myself, how is he still so youthful looking even at age 59? On the wall behind him? A framed photo of him and Pollan from a Gap advertising campaign. It hung next to a painting of his Great Dane named Gus. I mumbled something about liking his T-shirt. Though I had dozens of editor-approved questions in my arsenal, I couldn’t remember any of them in the moment. I went rogue and asked about his dog. My fail-safe subject in interviews is always dogs. That somehow led to a question about the exact location of the Central Park bench that I had read Pollan once gifted him for his birthday. Just four minutes into the interview, I had already gone on a major tangent. This is awful. He thinks I’m an unorganized hack. But then I told him about reading his new book, and he flashed that smile. I knew it was going to be OK.
We talked for an hour, discussing everything from his earliest memories of being in Hollywood to the physical struggle he must endure just to get out of bed every morning due to the Parkinson’s disease. I loved hearing him brag about his four kids, and when I asked his acting-career legacy, he swiveled the camera to show off a bookshelf lined with his five Emmy Awards. He was patient and insightful and self-deprecatingly funny, even though I knew he had answered many of these interviewer questions a gazillion times.
But I was the only one with a special show-and-tell presentation. Toward the end of the interview, I felt comfortable enough to hold up that vintage Tiger Beat. I leafed straight to an article titled “Back to Michael’s Future,” which was accompanied by a color poster of him in a blue suit jumping into the air, his hands in his pocket. “I always hated that jacket!” he exclaimed. He added that when his twin daughters were obsessed with One Direction, he reminded them that their old man used to be in those teen magazines. They didn’t care, he said with a laugh. An amused laugh.
Before signing off, he remarked that maybe one day we could meet on his Central Park bench and drink Yoo-hoos. You better believe that I went into the park a few days later determined to find that bench. It was exactly where he said it was, marked by a plaque that read “To Mike Fox and Gus, True New Yorkers.” I took a photo — it didn’t count as a selfie, I reasoned — and sat down, utterly content. Deep down, I knew I would never take him up on his surely hypothetical offer. Better to just remember the magical hour 35 years in the making, and take comfort in the warm thought that the teen idol plastered on my wall was worth looking up to.