The Hopeful Meaning Behind Michael J. Fox's Turtle Tattoo

The eternal optimist and first love of Gen X tweens across the globe, Michael J. Fox is and always has been a model of Hollywood royalty. Standing above the chaos of drama, divorces, and scandals that litter the tabloids, Fox offers the world a glimpse of triumph over adversity, and hope amidst despair.

What is portrayed, however, isn't always reality. And with his fourth memoir, No Time Like the Future, Fox delves into the harsh truth that it takes work to find joy and meaning in life when you're going through what seems impossible, especially facing your own mortality. In a New York Times excerpt of the book, he heart wrenchingly reveals, "Absent a chemical intervention, Parkinson's will render me frozen, immobile, stone-faced, and mute — entirely of the mercy of my environment. For someone for whom motion equals emotion, vibrance and relevance, it's a lesson in humility."

Even the actor behind the iconic Marty McFly, with his insights on life after living for over 20 years with Parkinson's disease, and his seemingly positive take on finding joy in the little things, needs to remind himself about just how strong and blessed he is. Which is exactly why, at 57 years old, he got his first tattoo: a sea turtle swimming through what looks like a time warp of rings on the inside of his right forearm. It's meaning, as he simply puts it in his memoir, is "a visual record of the power of resiliency," but perhaps it's more than that too.

The sea turtle from Michael J. Fox's tattoo was inspired by an actual event

Michael J. Fox debuted his tattoo on Instagram in January 2019. Choosing the famous Bang Bang tattoo shop in NYC for his foray into the world of permanent ink, Fox enlisted artist Mr. K for the fine line piece that features a weathered looking sea turtle swimming through 5 consecutive rings, a noticeable chunk removed from his right fin, and a scar on his face (via People). At the time, the Back to the Future star merely captioned the social media post with, "First tattoo, sea turtle, long story," but he revealed the deeper meaning to shop owner Keith "Bang Bang" McCurdy, who shared the touching story with Inked Magazine.

According to the interview, Fox had an encounter with a turtle in St. John that looked very much like the one now inked on his arm, and it had a huge impact on the actor. McCurdy detailed, "He spotted this turtle with a chunk missing from its fin and a scar on his face. And that turtle let him swim with him for about a half an hour. He made a transcending decision right after that. So that turtle was pretty significant to him."  

Could it have been that he saw himself in that turtle, battered and bruised but still swimming through life, and inspiring those he encounters? Only Fox can reflect on the details, but as he revealed in his New York Times interview, "With gratitude, optimism becomes sustainable," and maybe that's what the turtle taught him.