He was the boy who accidentally took two dates to the prom, making sure each girl didn’t know the other.
He was the boy who made up the “Stock Market Crash” dance for an audition, with ridiculous tumbles, rolls and jumping jacks.
He was the boy who threw Monopoly dice across the room and buffed the kitchen floor with his hands when he took speed pills to give himself energy.
He was Alex P. Keaton from the 1980s sitcom “Family Ties,” the character that had the biggest influence on 17-year-old Ryan Popowcer’s life.
Popowcer, a senior at Liberty High School, first started watching “Family Ties” with his father on YouTube.
“I really didn’t think much of it at first,” he said. “I knew my dad really liked it, so I bought a DVD set for him. When we started watching all of it together, I realized how amazing the show and Michael J. Fox’s character was. Alex P. Keaton is hilarious, witty and his comedic timing was always spot-on.”
After watching every episode, Popowcer wanted to follow in the footsteps of Fox, the actor who played Alex P. Keaton. He decided to pursue acting and quit baseball, which he had been playing since he was 4 years old.
“When he told us that he wanted to give up baseball and pursue acting full time, I wasn’t very excited at first,” said his father, Sam Popowcer. “I really wanted him to finish out his last two years as a pitcher at Liberty High School. But we were supportive. Baseball would have ended anyway after his senior year, and acting he can do forever.”
Popowcer enrolled in the Hollywood Bound Acting Academy in 2011, taking acting classes and learning to audition. Popowcer’s first job as an extra made him fall in love with acting. He had been in Dark Water Productions’ short film, “The Black Mamba.”
“The scene was a party with a bunch of drunk teenagers,” he said. “The director thought it would be funny to have a guy throw up from drinking too much, and they asked me to do it. I vomited in multiple takes, with the vomit made of oatmeal, oregano and water. That was a memorable experience. I definitely knew I wanted to become an actor after that.”
Michael J. Fox has even inspired Popowcer to take action. A three-year supporter of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease, Popowcer decided to host a fundraiser to support the cause. He texted his best friend, Joseph Maurer, to help with the project.
“Honestly, at first I thought he was crazy,” Maurer said. “I was a bit hesitant, and I didn’t really take the idea that seriously because I didn’t think it would take off. It was a lot of work for just the two of us to pull off, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
They got to work, setting up online donations and a silent auction. Through local businesses, they gathered “Jersey Boys” tickets, hotel-stay coupons and restaurant gift certificates to auction off. The auction was in October at the Sunrise Cafe.
“The auction was pretty low-key,” Popowcer said. “There were about 40 people, and we knew everybody. But it was a lot of fun and everybody was really generous. We even sold gag items, like hangers for $30, and even a bag of toothpicks for $62. People who couldn’t make it to our event donated to us online.”
They raised $3,500, which caught the attention of Katie Couric’s show, “Katie.”
“I was at home when I got a call from New York. When I answered, it was the producer of the Katie Couric show,” Maurer said. “She’d read an article about our fundraising event and wanted us to come on the show to talk about it and meet Michael J. Fox in person.”
Popowcer, on the other hand, got the call during a haircut.
“I literally freaked out in my chair. I couldn’t believe this was happening to us. I mean, we were going to New York to be on TV and meet my hero. This was big,” he said.
On the show, Popowcer and Maurer were interviewed by Couric about the fundraiser and handed the $3,500 check to Fox. They even had a quick “Family Ties” trivia game against Michael J. Fox himself. To talk with Fox was surreal for Popowcer.
“I will never forget this moment — the best moment of my life,” he said. “The first thing he said to us was, ‘If I knew you guys were 17, I would have brought my daughters.’ Then, before I knew it, I was talking politics with Alex P. Keaton.”
Katie Couric added $5,000 to the boys’ donations. Then the Brin Wojcicki Foundation, which agreed to match every dollar donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, matched the $8,500, raising the grand total to $17,000. Though they had never expected to pass their original goal of $5,000, they hope to break $10,000 for their upcoming fundraiser.
“We’re definitely doing this again,” Maurer said. “People that didn’t know us or didn’t plan on helping us started talking to us about fundraisers after they saw us on the Katie Couric show. We hope more businesses will also contribute to our cause.”
This fall, Popowcer will attend California State University, Northridge for cinema and television arts. He acknowledges Michael J. Fox as one of his greatest inspirations.
“He’s a phenomenal actor, he’s so positive and optimistic even though he’s facing Parkinson’s, and this foundation showed me that taking initiative in something you believe in can accomplish so much,” Popowcer said. “I want to be as great as him one day.”