How Bruce Willis Lost His Hearing While Filming Die Hard

There is no denying that "Die Hard" put Bruce Willis on the map. While he wasn't a brand new professional actor at the time, he wasn't a bona fide movie star either. Beginning in 1985, Willis and Cybill Shepherd starred in the well-loved TV series "Moonlighting," which made Willis' mid-show jump into movie stardom even more surprising. He told Ed Gross at the time that people considered him a TV actor, so "Die Hard" was a big surprise.

"'Die Hard' is probably the closest I've come to showing what is in my heart on screen," Willis told Gross in 1988 per Closer Weekly. "David Addison is a character I play on Moonlighting. In 'Die Hard,' even though I'm acting, a lot of what is in me came through. I really wanted to play a vulnerable guy. I didn't want to be a superhero who's a [larger-than-life] guy that nobody really knows." "Die Hard" was, clearly, a huge boost for Willis' career, though he left more than just some moments on the cutting room floor. The actor acknowledged that films like that are hard to make without injuries yet artists manage to keep sets relatively incident free. Still, sometimes things happen, and Willis knows all too well the off-screen consequences of on-set accidents.

Willis suffered significant hearing loss during filming

No matter how safe a movie set is, there is always room for error. Bruce Willis knows that personally after suffering a two-thirds hearing loss in his left ear. Rumer Willis confirmed that her father's hearing loss occurred after he accidentally "shot a gun off next to his ear" while filming "Die Hard," per RTE. As reported by Hollywood Suite, director John McTiernan wanted to use "extra loud blanks" to hype up the film's realism. Reportedly, the scene that caused the deafening accident was this one. Combine an extra-loud explosion with a confined indoor space, and hearing loss suddenly becomes more likely.

Rumer Willis has also said that her father being partially deaf is likely a reason why he has a hard time during interviews: He can't hear what's happening. It's an issue that plagues him professionally and personally — especially at the dinner table. "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," she said, per RTE. 

Willis has never talked explicitly about the accident, so no one knows for sure if it was preventable or if there was safety equipment on set. The piece also mentions that deafening incidents are common on-set issues. "... the lack of proper precautions leading to permanent hearing damage for actors is a rampant problem," Christian Gainey wrote at SlashFilm. For example, "Star Trek" star William Shatner has suffered from permanent ringing in his ears since an on-set explosion, per The Baltimore Sun.

Colleagues were concerned about Willis' health

Even before the public announcement of Bruce Willis' aphasia diagnosis and his retirement from acting, colleagues knew something was wrong. In talking to the Los Angeles Times, almost a dozen people who worked with Willis on recent film projects told the paper they were concerned about his health. Sources told the LA Times that he didn't always seem to know where he was or be able to remember his lines, so he had to use an earpiece. Another source told the paper that while filming "Hard Kill," Willis fired a gun at the wrong time. Luckily, no one was injured.

Jesse V. Johnson, director of "White Elephant," told the LA Times that Willis was not the same person he remembered working with a few decades ago as a stuntman. "After our experience on 'White Elephant' it was decided as a team that we would not do another," Johnson said. "We are all Bruce Willis fans, and the arrangement felt wrong and ultimately a rather sad end to an incredible career, one that none of us felt comfortable with."

Aphasia is generally caused by a stroke, though it can be caused by tumors, brain deterioration due to aging, or head injuries as well, according to Rush. NPR notes that details around Willis' diagnosis are still publicly unknown.