The news of film and TV star Bruce Willis’s retirement shook the Hollywood circuit on March 30, 2022, as reported by several media outlets. The announcement from Willis’s family was accompanied by the news that he has been diagnosed with aphasia – a disorder that affects the language center of the brain. Willis’s daughter, Rumer, posted a statement on her Instagram account, thanking all of the fans for their love and support, which was signed by herself, Willis’s wife Emma Heming, his ex-wife Demi Moore, and his other children — Tallulah, Scout, Mabel, and Evelyn.
As an actor, singer, and entrepreneur, Willis has worn many hats throughout his decades-long career. His breakout performance in the 1980s TV dramedy “Moonlighting” put him on the map, but it was his portrayal of John McClane in the “Die Hard” film franchise that launched him into stardom. As many more prominent roles were added to his repertoire, Willis became a legend of the big screen, as well as the source of tabloid fodder, for years to come. His relationship with fellow actor Demi Moore and his candidly vocalized political views put him in the spotlight nearly as much as his top-billed blockbusters, yet that never stopped the freight train that was Willis’s career.
Many Bruce Willis fans likely already know some fun facts about the man himself — like his alter ego, “Bruno,” or about his feud with indie filmmaker Kevin Smith. Yet they might be surprised by how much they didn’t know. Not to worry — Looper is here to fill in some of the most obscure facts for even the most discerning Willis admirer.
Born in Germany, raised in New Jersey
Through Bruce Willis considers himself a proud New Jersey native, he was actually born in West Germany. His father, David Willis, was a military man who was stationed in the city Idar-Oberstein at the time of Bruce’s birth in 1955. Bruce’s mother, Marlene, was from Kaufungen, Germany. Two years later, David Willis was discharged and relocated with his family to Carney’s Point, New Jersey (via Biography.com).
As a hard-working family man, David took on various jobs, including as a welder and a factory worker. It was perhaps his respect for his father’s hard work ethic, and military background, that made Bruce an advocate for the U.S. Armed Forces. He once phoned President George H. W. Bush and asked to enlist, but was told he was too old (via The Daily Mail). However, it seemed that he found other ways to serve his country: In 2003, Willis performed for U.S. troops in Tal Afar, Iraq, to show his support during the Iraq War (via The Guardian).
Willis had a stutter until he discovered acting
Buena Vista Pictures
Some Bruce Willis movies have him playing men of few words. However, there was a time in the movie star’s life when he struggled with speaking altogether. In a 2002 interview with Reader’s Digest, Willis spoke candidly about a debilitating stutter that he suffered as a child.
Willis told the magazine that he had a stutter from age 9 to 17. Though his speaking issues were a source of insecurity for Willis, he managed to make it work. “I had friends, I was elected student council president,” he said. “So I was popular in that sense, but inside I was really shook up by the fact that I couldn’t get rid of this stutter.”
While attending Penns Grove High School in New Jersey, Willis discovered the school’s theater department. That’s when an amazing thing happened. “When I got on stage, I stopped stuttering,” Willis said. “When I stepped off the stage, I started stuttering again. And I went, ‘This is a miracle. I got to investigate this more.'” His newly discovered love of acting would lead Willis to study more of the craft when he attended Montclair State College after graduating high school.
Willis had several jobs before he became an actor
Fame doesn’t usually happen overnight, and Bruce Willis’s story is no different. After high school, Willis found work at a chemical factory, and later as a security guard at a nuclear power plant. He then dropped out of Montclair State College during his sophomore year and moved to New York City, where he worked for years as a bartender (via Washington Post).
Rumor has it that Willis had a job as a private investigator before he began acting professionally. As though by fate, he would go on to play a character with the same profession when he was cast as private eye David Addison, Jr. in the hit ABC series, “Moonlighting.” The show follows Addison and former model Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd), two partners from a detective agency who solve mysteries while engaging in clever banter amidst “will-they-won’t-they” sexual tension. “Moonlighting” was a huge hit with TV critics and audiences, and was nominated for numerous awards during its four-season run, including Golden Globes, People’s Choice Awards, and the Primetime Emmys — winning six of the latter.
Bruce quit drinking alcohol
Willis might play a lot of tough guys on screen, but in real life, he’s just as human as anyone else. Following his rise to fame in the late 1980s, Willis was hired by Seagrams to endorse its wine coolers, appearing in commercials for the company. However, Willis later pulled out of his deal with Seagrams when he realized that he had a problem. In 1988, Willis reportedly joined Alcoholics Anonymous in an attempt to get his drinking under control.
In an interview with GQ in 2013, Willis spoke candidly about his drinking habit. “I had been sober [for a while]. But once I realized that I wasn’t gonna run myself off the pier of life with alcohol, drinking vodka out of the bottle every day … I have wine now, mostly when I eat.” A 2004 article from the National Enquirer stated that Willis went “off the wagon” at one point while at a hotel in Paris, but a representative for Willis quickly denied these claims.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Willis was once arrested on suspicion of assaulting a cop
Newfound fame can sometimes lead one to believe they are untouchable –- however, one can also soon be met with a rude awakening. One year before Willis quit drinking, his antics created a stir that landed him in trouble with the law. A 1987 article from the United Press International described a wild party gone wrong at Willis’s residence in Los Angeles. A neighbor called the police about the noise coming from Willis’s home, and when they went to investigate, they found a party in full swing, complete with loud music and alcohol.
A detective reported that Willis, who appeared to be intoxicated, shouted at the officers to leave his home. When they refused, Willis allegedly attempted to strike one of the officers. He was restrained and handcuffed by police, injuring himself in the process thanks to a broken clavicle that he had suffered previously while skiing. He was first taken to the hospital to treat the injury before being processed, and then was later released. Charges against him were dropped after he agreed to apologize to his neighbors and the police.
Yes, we are going to talk about Bruno
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images
Though some Bruce Willis fans may know about his nickname, “Bruno,” there may be those who have found themselves wondering where the name came from. Gen X’ers may remember, but for those millennials and Gen Z’ers not in the know, here’s the scoop.
Once Willis found fame for his starring role in “Moonlighting,” he decided to try his hand at other performing arts — namely, music. The result was an album released in 1987, “The Return of Bruno,” in which Willis sang and played harmonica alongside some pretty impressive recording artists (via Diffuser). The name “Bruno” came from an alter ego invented by Willis, called Bruno Radolini. The album was followed by an HBO special mockumentary about the character.
“The Return of Bruno” was released on the legendary Motown Records and was heavy with blues and R&B influences. If the existence of the album wasn’t surprising enough, even more unexpected was that it had decent success. The single “Respect Yourself,” featuring vocals from the Pointer Sisters, made it to the Top Five of the Billboard chart, and the album itself topped out at number 14 on the Top 200.
Little Richard officiated Bruce and Demi’s wedding
Gary Miller/Getty Images
Bruce Willis’s former marriage to Demi Moore may be old news in 2022, but for 13 years the power couple was the talk of the town and the subject of plenty of tabloid drama. Moore and Willis met at the premiere of “Stakeout” in 1987 when she was engaged to actor Emilio Estevez. Months later, Moore and Estevez called off their betrothal, and Willis swooped in shortly after.
Not far into their relationship, Willis and Moore took an impromptu vacation to Las Vegas, where Willis popped the question. They were married at a small chapel in the Golden Nugget hotel, and the ceremony was officiated by none other than rock ‘n’ roll legend Little Richard. Little Richard had overseen a number of other celebrity weddings as well, including Cyndi Lauper and David Thornton, Stevie Van Zandt and Maureen Santoro, and Tom Petty and Dana York (as reported by Far Out).
Though Willis and Moore divorced in 2000, the two continued to have a strong friendship. With the news of Little Richard’s death in 2020, Moore posted a wedding photograph of herself and Willis with Little Richard on Instagram, saying, “Bruce and I were so lucky and honored to have him officiate our wedding back in 1987 — thankful for the memories.”
Die Hard gave Willis permanent hearing damage
20th Century Fox
From crawling through vents to jumping off buildings, Bruce Willis’s role as John McClane in “Die Hard” had a lot of physical demands. After all, you don’t earn a reputation as a rugged action movie star without putting in the work. Willis has previously declared that he did many of his own stunts for the action-packed franchise, but not without consequence.
One of the movie’s most memorable one-liners comes from a scene when McClane dives under a set of tables to dodge the oncoming bullets of a Gruber henchman. The bad guy taunts McClane for failing to shoot him when he had the chance, telling him, “Next time you have the chance to kill someone, don’t hesitate.” McClane then shoots upward through the table, and the baddie drops dead. “Thanks for the advice,” he quips.
In 2007, Willis did an interview with the Guardian in which he talked about the long term effects of filming the scene. Apparently, the director required very loud blanks to achieve the sound he wanted — yet as a result, Willis endured severe hearing loss. “I suffer two-thirds partial hearing loss in my left ear and have a tendency to say, ‘Whaaa?'” he told the Guardian.
Willis spruced up the town of Hailey, Idaho
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It isn’t unusual for a superstar to grow weary of the spotlight, especially with eyes on his or her every move. Shortly after Bruce Willis married Demi Moore in 1987, the couple decided to withdraw from the Hollywood ruckus and found solitude in the small town of Hailey, Idaho.
A far cry from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, Hailey’s population consisted of just 3,700 in the year 1990. The rural community has grown steadily since, with a current population of more than 9,000. With snow-capped mountains and frigid temperatures, Hailey was a drastic shift from the warm climate and palm tree-lined streets of L.A. The town seemed to suit Willis’s needs, however, who put much of his own time and money into improving its infrastructure. He opened up a diner and refurbished a rundown bar, as well as built a theater for Hailey citizens to enjoy classic live entertainment.
In the interview with Reader’s Digest, Willis spoke about how Hailey was advantageous when it came to raising his children: “This is a really great community for kids. There are great schools here. It’s a little isolated, but it’s always been a sanctuary for us, and I think it’s a sanctuary for our kids.” When Moore and Willis split in 2000, the Willis family decided to leave Hailey behind. However, Shorty’s Diner and the Mint, both businesses previously owned by Willis, are still booming.
He got the part in Pulp Fiction thanks to Harvey Keitel
One of the biggest perks of fame is who you know, and Bruce Willis knows a lot of people in the biz. In 1994, Willis played boxer Butch Coolidge in “Pulp Fiction,” which would go on to become one of the most influential movies of director Quentin Tarantino’s career. Willis wasn’t the first actor Tarantino had in mind, however, and it was thanks to fellow cast member Harvey Keitel that he was even hired at all.
According to an interview with the Washington Post in 2005, Willis and Keitel were neighbors while Willis was living in Los Angeles. The two struck up a conversation in which Willis mentioned that he was a big fan of “Reservoir Dogs.” Keitel revealed to Willis that he was about to do another picture with Tarantino and a day later, Keitel invited Willis to a barbecue at his home. It just so happened that the “Pulp Fiction” director was also in attendance.
Willis told Tarantino that he’d “be happy to do anything” in his upcoming film, and Tarantino took his words to heart. Originally, the part of Butch had been offered to actor Matt Dillon, but it seemed that Dillon was not quite sold on the idea. While Willis was hoping to be cast as Vincent Vega, Tarantino offered him Butch’s role instead, which he gladly accepted.
Bruce has his own video game
These days, the idea of A-list actors starring in video games isn’t all that uncommon. “The Walking Dead” star Norman Reedus was the main protagonist in the highly praised “Death Stranding,” while the incomparable Keanu Reeves played a big part as Johnny Silverhand in CD Projekt Red’s “Cyberpunk 2077.” Yet in the late 1990s, it was a little more unusual — which is why when Neversoft and Activision got Bruce Willis to star in their action shooter, “Apocalypse,” it was a revolutionary idea.
Released for the first generation PlayStation in 1998, “Apocalypse” followed fresh on the heels of Willis’s similarly named blockbuster hit, “Armageddon.” Willis was just re-establishing himself as a big action movie star, so the idea of playing as the man himself was certainly an appealing notion for gamers. Willis starred as Trey Kincaid, a man fighting to stop the impending end of the world and the legendary Four Horsemen.
The studio utilized motion capture and photo-mapping to copy Willis’s likeness for the main character, and he also provided the voice. Though the studio did hit a few snags along the way, “Apocalypse” was fairly well-received by game critics — even if almost no one remembers it now.
Willis had his own cartoon show
By the time the 1990s rolled around, Bruce Willis had it made. He was a big movie star, had released a hit album, and was married to one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. So why not add a Saturday morning cartoon character to the list? It had worked for Howie Mandel, after all.
Enter “Bruno the Kid,” an animated children’s show created by Willis and co-produced by his brother, David. The series aired in syndication from 1996 to 1997 and starred Willis as the voice of Bruno, an 11-year-old who works for a spy network. On top of being a computer genius, Bruno spends his time taking down the world’s biggest villains in between 6th grade classes and trips to the arcade. Willis even co-wrote and sang the show’s theme song. The series also featured many well-known voice actors of the day, including Tim Curry, Mark Hamill, Jennifer Hale, and Frank Welker.
The Sixth Sense was Willis’s apology to Disney
Buena Vista Pictures
Besides his role as John McClane in the enduring “Die Hard” franchise, Willis’s second most popular film appearance could arguably be in M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense.” Hitting theaters in 1999, the hauntingly suspenseful film about a boy who can see ghosts gave Willis the chance to broaden his acting chops and venture outside of the shoot-em-up action genre. But he might not have ever played the part of psychologist Malcolm Crowe if he hadn’t owed the Disney studio, like, big time.
The story goes that in 1997, Willis was doing a project for Disney called “Broadway Brawler,” a romantic comedy that had him playing a retired pro hockey player who falls in love with a woman played by Maura Tierney. Unfortunately, Willis had issues with members of the crew, particularly the director, producer, and cinematographer. His beef with these key players on the project led to each of them getting fired, and eventually, the entire film was scrapped.
To avoid a legal battle with the studio, Willis agreed to sign on to three films for Disney. One of them was “The Sixth Sense,” while the other two were “Armageddon” and “The Kid.” Even though Willis took a significant pay cut for his work, at least two of these films helped to cement his continued reputation as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars — we bet you can guess which ones.
He appeared on Friends after losing a bet with Matthew Perry
Over its 10-season run, America’s most popular sitcom, “Friends,” had a slew of memorable guest stars. At the top of that list is good ol’ Willis himself, who played Paul Stevens in a three-episode arc in the show’s sixth season. Willis was the father of Ross’s (David Schwimmer) college-age girlfriend, Elizabeth (Alexandra Holden), and wasn’t too thrilled with his little girl dating an older man. He was also Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston) love interest until she encouraged him to open up more, causing a floodgate of repressed emotions.
How did “Friends” get such a big star to appear in not just one, but three episodes? Well, it’s all thanks to Matthew Perry, who played Chandler on the show. Perry and Willis co-starred in the 2000 crime comedy “The Whole Nine Yards,” during which the two became fast friends. As the story goes, Perry bet Willis that the film would be a box office hit, and to their surprise, the movie raked in a worldwide total of $106 million. As a result of losing the bet, Willis had to guest star on “Friends” without pay.
Willis held up his end of the bargain, and though he did receive a paycheck, he ended up donating all of it to charity.
Bruce’s brother, Robert, died in 2001
Bruce is the oldest of four children, including a sister, Florence, and brothers Robert and David. In 2001, the family was struck by tragedy with the death of Robert Willis, who died of pancreatic cancer. As reported by Variety, Robert was 42 years old, and a web designer. Bruce issued a statement that said, “We very much loved our brother. He was not only a good brother but a wonderful son to our parents. We will sorely miss him.”
According to an article from the Irish Examiner in 2002, Willis claimed that he made contact with Robert through a medium. “This woman is someone who can receive information from the other side,” he said. “She began speaking in the voice of my brother, cursing like he did. Tears rolled down my face and now I know the switch is not turned off, that there is life after death. I don’t know how it works but I believe it.”
Willis made his Broadway debut in Misery
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While Bruce Willis had enjoyed a successful film career, he didn’t lose his love for the theater. In 2015, he found his way onto the Broadway stage, playing Paul Sheldon in a stage adaptation of Stephen King’s thriller, “Misery.” Playing opposite Willis as the obsessed fan, Annie Wilkes, was Laurie Metcalf of “Roseanne” fame. The story has Sheldon, a famous author, at the mercy of his “number one fan,” Annie, who takes him into her home after he breaks both of his legs in a bad car wreck. The immobilized author is then held hostage and tortured by Annie for a number of days, as she forces him to write a new novel starring his best-selling fictional creation, Misery Chastain.
In spite of the source material and the reputation of the leading actors, “Misery” on Broadway was bashed by the critics. Entertainment Weekly called Willis’s performance flat and “inert,” while the New York Times found the suspense sorely lacking. “You’re more likely to experience chills sitting in a tepid bath at home,” wrote the Times’ Ben Brantley.