Tracy: He was out of control!
Michael: I had so many cars that I needed a valet parking guy to get them out. It was stupid—I was like the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes winner. I was always hanging out with Woody Harrelson and Julian Lennon, you know? When Tracy was leaving the show, she played me this James Taylor song called "That's Why I'm Here." It said something like "Learn not to burn means to turn on a dime / Walk on if you're walking, even if it's an uphill climb / Try to remember that working's no crime / Just don't let them take and waste your time." And that song stayed with me. The next spring I was casting a movie in New York, and I saw Tracy, who had come in to read for a part. I said, "How's so-and-so?" She said, "We're not together anymore." I was like, "(a) You have the job and (b) let's have lunch." By the time the movie was finished, we were on vacation together—and less than a year later we were married.
Oprah: In your marriage, one of the unexpected challenges has been Parkinson's. Can you tell me what the disease is exactly?
Michael: Having Parkinson's is like having your brain talk to your body on a cell phone in a tunnel. When the medication is working, all the transmissions are smooth. But between dosages you lose control, which can show up in everything from an inability to express emotion facially to the inability to articulate speech. You might also shuffle or have a hitch in your gait. Parkinson's occurs when nerve cells in a part of your brain that controls movement begin to die, and your brain stops producing a chemical called dopamine. In fact, by the time you notice symptoms, about 80 percent of those cells are already dead. At first you have a lot of tremors, but as the disease progresses you actually become more and more still. Tracy used to tell me, "You're like inertia—once you get going you can't stop, but once you stop nothing will get you going again."
Tracy: But that's not related to the Parkinson's—that's just your personality.
Michael: Exactly. But that's also an apt description of living with the disease.
Oprah: Do you feel self-conscious in public?
Michael: We once went to a benefit where a band we wanted to hear was playing. During the early part of the evening when the lights were on, I was shaking badly and people were coming up to me, hugging me and looking at me with that look I recognize, and...
Oprah: What is that look?
Michael: They're looking for fear in me. When they don't see that, they then see their own fear reflected back at them and they start to freak out. I end up saying to them, "You're going to be fine." You want to tell them that bad things can happen to you and you don't know where they'll take you, and that is okay. I don't discount for a second that people care for me or that their concern is genuine. But at the same time people look at me and think, "My God, could that happen to me?" And when I look back at them, it's as if I'm saying "It might, and maybe you'll be okay. Just get there when you get there."
We Hear You!