Tragic Details About Bruce Willis

When Bruce Willis was granted a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006, he confessed that he never really saw fame coming for him. "I used to come down here and look at these stars and I could never quite figure out what you were supposed to do to get one," he said at the ceremony, according to The Guardian. "Time has passed and now here I am doing this, and I'm still excited. I'm still excited to be an actor," he added.

All that excitement has taken him through an impressive career. He's starred in Wes Anderson's whimsical film "Moonrise Kingdom," the iconic "Armageddon," M. Night Shyamalan's "Unbreakable," Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," and "Die Hard." It hasn't all been terrific, though. Willis has made it onto the Razzies' radar more than once, a list for the worst films and actors of the year — basically, the complete opposite of the Oscars.

It wasn't all work, however. In the midst of his booming career, he married and divorced Demi Moore (more on this below) and later married Emma Heming Willis. Happily, his ex and his current wife get along famously. He also went on to welcome five children over the years who've had adventures of their own both on and off the screen. But things took a turn for Bruce Willis on March 30, 2022, when he announced that, due to a health concern, he'd be stepping away from acting. Sadly, this isn't the first tough thing he's had to go through.

He stuttered as a child and dealt with bullying

Bruce Willis did not have an easy childhood and faced bullying and embarrassment because he stuttered. The condition began when he was six, and as he told The Hollywood Reporter, "[I had] no plan, no help, just flailing wildly for a really long time." As a result of his stuttering, Willis faced social struggles, too. "There was a lot of bullying in my life, and I had to fight my way out," he said to the outlet. "Kids get mean."

Of all things, it was acting that saved Willis. In John Parker's "Bruce Willis: The Unauthorized Biography," the actor is cited as once expressing (via The Stuttering Foundation). "I could hardly talk. It took me three minutes to complete a sentence. It was crushing for anyone who wanted to express themselves, who wanted to be heard and couldn't," he said. "It was frightening. Yet, when I became another character, in a play, I lost the stutter. It was phenomenal." In 2016, the American Institute for Stuttering recognized Willis for bringing awareness to the disability. In his speech, as The Hollywood Reporter noted, Willis said to the audience, "My advice to the people in this room is to never let anyone make you feel like an outcast, because you will never be an outcast." 

We commend Willis for being so willing to open up about this dark period of his life, and who would have guessed that acting would have helped so much? 

Bruce Willis' divorce from Demi Moore

Bruce Willis and Demi Moore didn't waste any time on their romance and got married four months after they met in 1987, with Moore conceiving their first child, Rumer, immediately after tying the knot. Their passionate love affair was enough to sustain a 12-year-long marriage and three children, but it fell apart largely because everything happened so quickly.

Moore wrote of the demise in her 2019 memoir "Inside Out" (via ET). "We had a whirlwind, truncated infatuation that morphed into a full-on family, all in our very first year," she wrote. "When reality set in, I don't know if we really knew each other. ... I think both of us from the outset were more passionate about having kids than we were about being married." The "Ghost" star added that she and Willis had different views on work life and parenting. He expected her to stay home and raise their children, while she planned on returning to the screen and getting back to work. 

Willis added to the details in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2000, noting how their fame was a huge stressor on their relationship. "It's difficult for any couple to keep their marriage intact under the best of circumstances, and our marriage was under a huge magnifying glass all the time," he said. "So, it might have been a little more difficult for us." Luckily, they managed to co-parent their children and stay close even through their later relationships, but the divorce was certainly jarring.

A Die Hard accident led to partial hearing loss

While "Die Hard" solidified Bruce Willis as a Hollywood icon, the 1988 film also left the actor severely compromised. Always the reticent one, Willis briefly alluded to the issue during a 2007 interview with The Guardian. When asked what his "most unappealing habit" was, Willis said, "Due to an accident on the first 'Die Hard,' I suffer two-thirds partial hearing loss in my left ear and have a tendency to say, 'Whaaa?'"

The movie was famous for its authentic explosions. Jan De Bont, the cinematographer, told SlashFilm. "The only one that's shot on miniature is the very top of the building." He added, "But many other [explosions] in the building are actually real explosions. For instance, when the police come in with that vehicle and [Hans Gruber's henchmen are] shooting those rocket launchers at it, that is all real."

The star's eldest daughter, Rumer Willis, elaborated on what happened and said that his partial deafness is why he can come across as reserved during interviews. "I think part of the problem is sometimes he can't hear ... because he shot a gun off next to his ear when he was doing 'Die Hard' a long time ago," she explained, per Amplifon. Rumer went on to note that even at home, her famous dad sometimes has a hard time catching things, saying, "If me and my sisters get together and he's at a dinner table and we start talking about fashion and things, the poor guy."

Bruce Willis suffered injuries while filming Tears of the Sun

Bruce Willis was injured while filming the 2003 film "Tears of the Sun," an action movie featuring Monica Bellucci and Cole Hauser, and set in Nigeria. Willis played Navy SEAL Lieutenant A.K. Waters, who sets out to rescue a doctor and then rescues several refugees while there.

While working on the movie, an unspecified "projectile" hit Willis' forehead while he performed a stunt as pyrotechnics went off on set, the New York Post reported. The injuries were so severe that Willis ended up filing a lawsuit against Revolution Studios due to the "extreme mental, physical, and emotional pain," he was alleged to have suffered from the on-set accident, per legal documents obtained by The Guardian. The reason for the lawsuit was that the special effects team allegedly didn't maintain adequate safety on set, and the nature of the injury meant that Willis "was required to and did employ physicians and other medical personnel," per the court docs.

However, the other details of the lawsuit were largely kept under wraps — including the financial compensation that Willis was asking for — but it did indicate that the issue wasn't resolved and that he would continue to need medical attention after the filming had wrapped. Of course, this then added greater medical expenses.

The movie star's string of flops

A sore spot in Bruce Willis' career revolves around the many movie misses. While he was once one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood, something shifted with the release of "Hudson Hawk," a 1991 comedy featuring Willis as a freshly released convict. The film scored a measly 33% on Rotten Tomatoes and spawned many articles attempting to see at least something worthwhile in the film.

For instance, in 2017, The New Yorker released a hopeful piece called "The Misunderstood Ambition of 'Hudson Hawk.'" But even this attempt at reviving a fresh perspective for the film ended up criticizing it. "The basic problem with 'Hudson Hawk' is simple: it's a comedy that's not particularly funny," the piece read. To be fair, The New Yorker did offer some praise, stating, "[The film] offers ... a prodigious, even profligate, display of imagination."

But "Hudson Hawk" also set in motion a list of flops for Willis, so that he dropped from being Hollywood's darling to being the guy riding on the fame of "Die Hard." Ex-wife Demi Moore poked some serious fun at this during his Comedy Central roast. "After our divorce, he said he considered the end of our marriage his biggest failure. But Bruce, don't be so hard on yourself, you've had much bigger failures," Moore said, per Variety. "I mean Planet Hollywood, 'Hudson Hawk,' 'Striking Distance,' campaigning for Michael Dukakis, turning down [George] Clooney's role in 'Ocean's Eleven' to focus on playing the harmonica?" Dang! No mercy shown there.

His brother's death from cancer

Bruce Willis faced a serious loss in 2001 when his younger brother, Robert Willis, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, according to The New York Times. It was only six weeks after the diagnosis that Robert died at the age of 42.

The event was harrowing for Bruce, who quoted his brother to the newspaper. "He said: 'Look, this does not scare me. I accept this, and I know that you guys are going to grieve, but don't grieve too hard,'" Bruce said of Robert. Since he was in the middle of working on "True West," the movie star commuted between Idaho and Massachusetts during Robert's final days. For Bruce, the experience of loss was also transformative. "It's a good message to people — to live it up, you know," he added. "I remember a saying that was really popular when I was a kid: save for a rainy day. I think it's raining right now. I think you shouldn't postpone happiness at any time."

But with grief came the desire for answers and, as the Irish Examiner noted, Bruce later sought out a medium to contact Robert. "This woman is someone who can receive information from the other side," the star said. "She began speaking in the voice of my brother, cursing like he did." The connection brought a sense of faith for the actor. "Tears rolled down my face and now I know the switch is not turned off, that there is life after death," Bruce went on. "I don't know how it works but I believe it."

Bruce Willis' aphasia diagnosis and retirement from acting

On March 30, 2022, members of Bruce Willis' family shared a shocking announcement about the actor's health and career. "Our beloved Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities," ex-wife Demi Moore wrote in part on Instagram. She added, "Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him."

Aphasia can manifest rapidly, either from "a stroke or a head injury," the Mayo Clinic noted, or it can develop over time in the brain, caused by "a slow-growing brain tumor or a disease that causes progressive permanent damage." The result is an inability to understand written or spoken language. Those who suffer from aphasia may not make sense when they speak and may fail to understand what someone else is saying. The coherence of their writing may also be compromised. However, this can vary from person to person. As The New York Times reported, there isn't a cure for aphasia, but therapeutic approaches can help with some symptoms. The patient may focus on reading or writing exercises or communication-based therapies.

For Willis, this means that a career that's as highly communicative as acting will be that much more difficult. Despite the tragic news, Moore's final note on Instagram was a hopeful one: "As Bruce always says, 'Live it up' and together we plan to do just that."

A missed cue

While Bruce Willis' retirement due to aphasia might be news to the general public, it sounds like some who worked closely with Willis in the film industry weren't totally caught off guard. As director Mike Burns told the Los Angeles Times, when he was working with Willis on "Out of Death" in 2020, he asked the film's writer to not only reduce the star's part but make sure his character didn't have any big chunks of dialogue. Burns didn't mention why at the time.

That same year, Willis filmed "Hard Kill," an action flick in which he acted opposite Lala Kent of "Vanderpump Rules." In the aforementioned LA Times story, the Bravo star recalled a precarious production moment where Willis apparently neglected to say a certain line before firing a blank — Kent's cue to move. "Because my back was to him, I wasn't aware of what was happening behind me," she said. "But the first time, it was like, 'No big deal, let's reset.'" Kent told the outlet that it happened again. Multiple people who were on the set corroborated her story, but others, including the armorer for the production, disputed this account.

This situation will likely bring back memories of the accidental fatal shooting in New Mexico on October 21, 2021, where Alec Baldwin was mistakenly given a loaded gun and shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, per The New York Times. For Willis, a crew member explained, "We always made sure no one was in the line of fire when he was handling guns."

Bruce Willis' diagnosis progressed to dementia

On February 16, 2023, the family of Bruce Willis jointly revealed that they'd received an advanced analysis of his health condition. On Instagram, the actor's former spouse Demi Moore wrote, "Since we announced Bruce's diagnosis of aphasia in spring 2022, Bruce's condition has progressed and we now have a more specific diagnosis: frontotemporal dementia (known as FTD)." She went on to express that Willis' kin was much more at ease now that there was clarity around his well-being. Moore also acknowledged the family's collective gratitude for the messages of hope sent their way since his diagnosis was made public.

A much longer note, shared in collaboration with The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration, relayed that FTD, prevalent amongst those below the age of sixty, could remain undetected for a long time. Unfortunately, it remains a terminal disease as of this writing. Subsequently, the entire desired focus of Willis and his family was to shine a light on FTD and its effects. "Bruce always believed in using his voice in the world to help others, and to raise awareness about important issues both publicly and privately," the statement read in part.

The actor's story has become a large part of efforts featured in hashtag campaigns like Every FTD Story Counts, where people from all walks of life whose family members have been affected by similar diagnoses can discuss their respective experiences. As a result, Willis' family members are powerfully lending their voice toward spreading FTD consciousness.