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Why Michael J. Fox was never the same after Back to the Future 3

A film set can be a highly unpredictable place — anything that can potentially happen probably will. Good, bad, or otherwise, it isn't uncommon for surprise occurrences to pop up without warning. Sometimes human life could be on the line, as was the case during Back to the Future Part III's 1989 filming. One routine day on set as Marty McFly turned out to change Michael J. Fox's life forever.

The Back to the Future franchise sits within the upper echelon of big-screen trilogies, inspiring movies and television to this day. With each successive installment, director Robert Zemeckis sought to push the boundaries of time-travel fiction. The first took Marty from the '80s to the '50s and back with the help of Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), the second brought the pair to the futuristic world of 2015, and the third set their adventures in the Wild West.

From the outside, acting in a blockbuster movie can look like a fun, stress-free job. Michael J. Fox would beg to differ after staring death in the face during the production of Part III. Such a traumatic moment is impossible to fully shake, turning one's life on its head. Following the incident, the former Family Ties star was never the same again.

In his autobiography, Lucky Man: A Memoir, Fox touches on the incident, recalling how it all went down.

Michael J. Fox was really hanged while filming

In keeping with Back to the Future tradition, Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) or a member of his family had to fill the villain role. In Part III's case, Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen took on the responsibility of pushing Marty around. At one point he attempts to lynch him, hanging him from a rope by his neck. Few survive such a brutal experience — and Fox nearly joined that majority.

After several takes, as Fox explains in Lucky Man, "I swung unconscious at the end of the rope for several seconds before Bob Zemeckis, fan of me though he was, realized even I wasn't that good of an actor." The rehearsals went smoothly, with Fox maintaining space between the rope and his windpipe to breathe. Once cameras rolled, however, the knot tightened dangerously tight, nearly killing him.

Thankfully, he was revived and continued the shoot, but the entire scenario is terrifying. Anyone facing a near-death experience like that — especially in such a brutal method as hanging — would be right to panic. Still, there is more to be said for Fox's indescribable fear in this case. Everyone observing his "performance" thought nothing of his flailing and coughing, assuming he was just acting. They didn't realize he was in real danger until the last second, adding a whole other layer to this nightmare. Understandably, Fox (nowadays no stranger to health scares) walked away from this a changed man.