LOS ANGELES – Michael J. Fox was lauded for his work in finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease and Cher presented songwriter Diane Warren with a long-awaited Oscar at the Governors Awards on Saturday night.
Directors Peter Weir and Euzhan Palcy also received honorary Oscars at the awards ceremony presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Awards contenders, including Jennifer Lawrence, Florence Pugh, Angela Bassett, Eddie Redmayne, Michelle Williams, Cate Blanchett, Brendan Fraser, Tom Hanks, Glen Powell and Janelle Monáe, attended the black-tie event billed as the official season opener for Hollywood film awards.
Fox, 61, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 29 in 1991, used the Bruce Springsteen song “No Surrender” to describe his battle to find a cure for the degenerative brain disorder.
“It’s kind of my personal anthem,” Fox said, quoting the words of the song from the podium: “No retreat, no surrender.”
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Presenting the award, his longtime friend Woody Harrelson said Fox “turned a chilling diagnosis into a courageous mission” by founding the Michael J. Fox Foundation to search for a cure. The foundation has raised more than $1 billion for research.
“He never asked for the role of Parkinson’s lawyer, but it’s his best performance,” Harrelson said. “Michael J. Fox sets the ultimate example of how to fight and how to live.”
After receiving a lengthy standing ovation on his way to the podium, Fox joked with the audience. “You guys are going to make me tremble.”
“This is great,” he said, looking at the Oscar statuette.
The “Family Ties” and “Back to the Future” star emotionally thanked Tracy Pollan, his wife of 34 years, for her support from the moment he was diagnosed. She struggled for words, saying, “Tracy made it clear that she was with me the whole time.”
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Through all the hardships and health setbacks caused by Parkinson’s disease, Fox says the experience, advocacy, and work to find a cure have been rewarding.
“Parkinson’s disease is the gift that keeps taking,” Fox said. “But it really has been a gift.”
After his speech, Fox called Pollan to the podium.
“I can’t believe it’s been here that long, it’s a miracle,” Fox said, looking at the heavy trophy. “I can’t walk and carry this thing. But I’m asking Tracy to carry the weight again.”
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Cher, 76, joked, “I’m the oldest person here” after receiving applause for her appearance on the awards podium. The legendary performer of the hit “If I Could Turn Back Time” applauded the composer and new honorary Oscar winner.
Warren, 66, set an Oscar record for most nominations (13) for a category (best original song) without winning before taking the honorary award.
Cher called Warren the “most prolific writer of my generation, of any generation.”
“I’m so excited to present this to you,” Cher said, presenting Warren with the Oscar. “You’ve waited so long (expletive) for this.”
Warren tried to contain the “ugly crying”, giving thanks from the podium.
“I’ve waited 43 years to say this, but I’d like to thank the Academy,” Warren said. “I can say a speech. I have a lot of acceptance speeches I’ve written that I’ve had to crumple in my pocket.”
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Jeff Bridges presented Weir, 78, with the honorary Oscar. Bridges, 72, thanked the late actor Robin Williams for encouraging him to work with the Australian director for the first time on 1993’s “Fearless.”
“Robin, you were right, man,” Bridges said of Weir. “Everything you said was correct.”
Weir praised Williams, his star in 1989’s “Dead Poets Society,” who died in 2014.
“Robin Williams, if only I could have him here for five minutes,” Weir said.
Weir said filmmaking was “like a journey. My team knew it wasn’t about my ego or their egos, it was about the ego of the film.”
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Palcy, 64, born in Martinique, French West Indies, was the first black female filmmaker to direct a major Hollywood studio film, 1989’s “A Dry White Season,” which earned Marlon Brando his last Oscar nomination.
The groundbreaking director said she had taken a long break from filmmaking because she was tired of convincing studios that “black is bankable, woman is bankable” at the movie box office. But seeing the success of movies like “The Woman King” has shown Palcy that times have changed. She gestured to Viola Davis, who starred in the blockbuster and presented her with the honorary Oscar.
“Come on guys, look at my sister standing with me. Black is profitable, female is profitable. Black and female are profitable,” Palcy said. “My stories are not black. My stories are not white. They are universal. They are poetry.”