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‘You’re Not Going to Be Cute Forever’: Michael J. Fox Recalls His Teacher’s Reaction to Dropping Out of School

As Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties, Michael J. Fox played a teen focused on his studies, especially if they had anything to do with economics and making money. In real life, however, young Fox was not known for his academic achievements. In fact, the Canadian actor actually dropped out of high school to pursue his passion for acting. In 1978, at just 17 years old, Fox was performing on a nightly basis in a long-running hit play at the local equity theater and starring in the TV series Leo and Me. Because of that professional experience, he was barely showing up to school — which ironically meant flunking his drama class, among others.

“I’d work at the theater until well after midnight every night, climb out of bed in the morning, go through the I’m-off-to-class motions, scramble into my pickup truck, proceed to the nearest park, pull under the cool shade of a maple tree, fish a foam pad out of the cab, slap it down in the bed of the truck, and go back to sleep,” Fox explained in an excerpt from his memoir, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future ($15.70 on Amazon), which NPR included as part of an interview in 2010. His parents attempted to scold him into becoming a better student, but when the spring semester rolled around, Fox decided he wouldn’t be attending. He remembers a teacher warning him, “You’re making a big mistake, Fox. You’re not going to be cute forever.” His response? “Maybe just long enough, sir. Maybe just long enough.” 

Luckily, as we all know now, Fox happened to be right! Four years after leaving high school, he landed his breakthrough role on Family Ties. As he says in the memoir, “I might have skipped class, but I didn’t miss any lessons.” He also didn’t miss out on having one of the most important tokens from school: his senior yearbook — though it took him a little longer than others, and a creative wife to make it happen. In an interview with AARP, Fox explained how Tracy Pollan surprised him with a thoughtful gift on his 50th birthday. “She had all these people sign it, from Tony Bennett to Bruce Springsteen to my sixth-grade teacher to friends of mine from home.” Fox has also since been given several honorary degrees from universities — and one from John Dewey High School in Brooklyn, New York, meaning the talented actor can finally call himself a high school graduate.

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