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Michael J. Fox told River Phoenix it was okay to be a “dick.”

“It’s a stupid thing to do for a living,” Fox Phoenix said of acting.

Michael J. Fox recalls words of wisdom he shared with the late River Phoenix on the set of Family Ties.

Phoenix guest starred on the sitcom in 1985 at the age of 15. Series executive Fox told People magazine that while Phoenix’s work ethic is inspirational, Fox needs to calm Phoenix down between takes.

“It was just before or just after ‘Stand by Me’ and he made a scene and I could see it,” Fox said. “I’ve been looking at this guy… I think Tracy [Pollan, my wife] was on the show that episode. And I said, ‘Look at this boy who works. This boy is taking these 10 ways starting Sunday and he’s really getting down to business. I mean, kids don’t behave like that. He really knew how to be an actor, but he struggled in that one scene.”

Fox continued, “So I went up to him and said, ‘What’s the problem?’ And he said, ‘I feel like an asshole.’ And I said, ‘You feel like an ass? Why?’ He said, “I feel stupid, I feel like an ass.” And I said, ‘Welcome to the store. That’s it. That’s the highest level of achievement you’ll reach when you’re feeling like an ass.’ It’s stupid. It’s a stupid thing to do for a living.”

The sentiment put things into perspective for Phoenix, according to Fox, who added, “We pretend to be other people to make a living. We use things we don’t really use and we eat things we don’t really eat and we stand in one place because the light is better there and everything is goofy but if you stick with it you can find a way tell a story that others cannot.”

Ultimately, Phoenix gave a “phenomenal” performance on “Family Ties” and seemed to remember Fox’s kindness years later. In 1991, while Fox was filming the comedy Doc Hollywood in a small town outside of Gainesville, Florida, Phoenix and his brother Joaquin invited Phoenix to their home during filming.

“River would take us out,” Fox said. “He used to come and pick us up and take us to his house to have a barbecue. It’s funny because that was an act of kindness built on an act of kindness. I guess that’s why he was always so nice to me when he became a big star.”

Phoenix died of a drug overdose in 1993 at the age of 23.

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