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Wine fund-raiser raises $675,000
for Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's foundation

Story and photo courtesy of the Napa Valley Register
July 17, 2002
Written By L. PIERCE CARSON, Register Staff Writer

Popular film and television actor Michael J. Fox brought his Parkinson's disease research fund-raising campaign to the California wine country last weekend.

Flanked by superstar Heather Locklear and his wife, actress Tracy Pollan, Fox and others working for the cause took home $675,000, a substantial sum considering this is only the second time a charity event benefiting Parkinson's research has been held in the Napa Valley.

Last year, the wine industry turned out in force for a tribute to one of their own, vintner Al Brounstein, who's been fighting off the debilitating effects of the disease for 19 years. Sponsored by Wine Spectator, that tribute raised nearly $700,000 for a sister organization, the Parkinson's Institute.

Once again, the wine industry was well represented, contributing the lion's share of last Saturday night's live and silent auction offerings, with a considerable number of area vintners attending the star-studded reception and wine dinner at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Tickets and pledges for "The Fox and the Grapes," sponsored by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, brought in $378,200. Successful bidders among the 250 guests at the sold-out event spent $260,000 at a live auction conducted by popular wine auctioneer Ursula Hermacinski and another $36,800 at a silent auction.

High bids during the evening's live auction were $58,000 for a Caribbean cruise aboard a 131-foot private yacht for 10, won by vintner Dan Duckhorn, and $55,000 for a trip to New York in December to meet and dine with Fox, attend a star-studded night of comedy and fund-raiser featuring Muhammad Ali and receive a collection of Colgin Cellars wine, won by Richard Previte, board member of the Parkinson's Institute.

It was the Fox family's initial visit to the Napa Valley. "It took an event like tonight for me to enter into a community that's not my own and to receive such empathy and support," Fox pointed out to reporters as attendees gathered for the evening's reception. "I am most thankful that the wine community not only opened its heart but also its purse strings for Parkinson's research."

In 1991, at the height of a very successful Hollywood career -- after eight seasons of "Family Ties" and three "Back to the Future" movies, Fox learned he had Parkinson's disease. Fox was only 30 years old, a rare diagnosis in that most Parkinson's sufferers are struck in their 50s or 60s.

For several years, Fox told few people about his illness. He kept acting, appearing in numerous films and bringing his boyish, hyperactive presence to the TV sitcom "Spin City." Eventually, his Parkinson's symptoms grew too disruptive to hide. Fox then told the world of his diagnosis.

In May of 2000, Fox left the popular television show to launch the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.

"I left 'Spin City' for a new job -- finding a cure for Parkinson's disease," the affable actor told an enthusiastic dinner crowd Saturday night.

Fox said scientific research was "way ahead of the money" needed to fund it when he launched the eponymously named organization two years ago.

Fox felt his celebrity could bring attention to the cause, as well as successfully help solicit both public and private funds for Parkinson's research.

"I honestly believe that the disease can be cured within 10 years," he declared. "My happiest day would be one when this foundation is out of business.

"And a cure for Parkinson's opens the door for (curing) a number of other neurological diseases."

To date, the Fox Foundation has funded $17 million worth of research projects all designed to find a cure for Parkinson's disease. "I expect we'll reach $25 million (in research grants) by the end of this year."

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research helped make history by partnering with the National Institutes of Health to create a public/private "fast track" mechanism for funding research. The goal was to stimulate research in the field through the infusion of new or high-risk ideas -- an effort, NIH officials agree, would not have come about without the determined fund-raising efforts of the Fox Foundation.

Fox told reporters last weekend he keeps busy working on projects like "Stuart Little" -- he's the voice of the popular animated character in the latest film opening this weekend -- and as a producer of several films.

A typical day, he says, is helping his wife get four kids off to school, keeping fit through various physical exercise programs, working with the foundation and running his production company. He's received several offers to direct, he pointed out, "but I need to find the time. I've never been busier since I retired."

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