Bruce Willis confirmed his retirement from acting this year due to aphasia, a degenerative brain disease that affects speech and communication. The beloved actor is now cared for by his family, predominantly his wife, Emma Heming Willis.
The last few months have been hard on the Willis family after the 67-year-old’s diagnosis was confirmed, but it also pushed them closer together, with Bruce and Emma selling their home in Westchester, New York, in order to move to California.
According to reports, it seems as though Willis isn’t leaving the house much – instead, he’s “trapped” in his own mind.
Now, the news that Bruce Willis had been diagnosed with aphasia shocked the world. The long-time, beloved actor – known for his roles in Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, and Sixth Sense, among others – is only 67, but he’s appeared in his final ever film.
But before we get to that, let’s take a look at Bruce’s famous career.
He was born on March 19, 1955, in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany, where his father was stationed in the U.S. military. The oldest of four children, Willis, at age two, moved back to the United States with his family, settling in Carney’s Point, New Jersey.
By all accounts, Willis’ childhood was hugely affected by his stuttering. As quoted in the 1997 book Bruce Willis: The Unauthorized Biography, the actor revealed that his stuttering was so bad that he 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, it was frightening. Yet, when I became another character, in a play, I lost the stutter. It was phenomenal,” he said.
Moreover, a school speech therapist helped him to build up confidence and conquer his stuttering through several exercises. In high school, Bruce tried his best to fit in by becoming the class clown. This also led to him getting involved in the school’s drama group.
Following Bruce’s graduation from Penns Grove High School, he went on to first work in a chemical factory and later as a security guard.
He eventually returned to school, enrolling at Montclair State University in New Jersey, where he quickly rediscovered drama. Bruce was eager to attain the skills necessary to become an actor. Fortunately, he had gotten great help from his drama professor, Jerry Rockwood who quickly saw the promising actor’s potential.
He ended up cutting classes and instead traveling to auditions in Manhattan. In January 1977, he got his first part in the play Heaven and Earth.
In his sophomore year, Bruce decided to drop out of education in order to pursue his acting career. To give himself the best chance, he moved to New York.
”I thought’ How much time do I need?’” Willis told Rolling Stone in 1986. ”I always had the idea of 10 years in the back of my mind. But if it had taken 20, I’d have still done it. I knew this was what I wanted.”
At that point, Willis’ work in plays wasn’t enough to pay the rent. He subsidized it by working as a bartender, as well as a model for brands such as Levis and Ray-Ban.
In the early 1980s, Bruce got his first couple of uncredited roles on screen. He was a young, stubborn, and promising actor who went his own way at castings. That was a tactic that would eventually would pay off big-time.
In 1985, he landed the role of David Addison in the ABC television series Moonlighting. More than 3,000 people auditioned for the role – and it turned out to be his big breakthrough.
Bruce stayed on Moonlightning for 66 episodes, until 1989, when the show got canceled. By that stage in his life, he was no longer a promising actor roaming around looking for the next gig, but a future star in the making. Moreover, he had committed to a relationship with fellow actor Demi Moore.
Willis and Moore met in 1987 at the premiere party for the film Stakeout. They both had other dates with them that night – Moore’s then-fiancé Emilio Estevez was actually the star of the film.
At first, Willis and Moore became friends. But in the end, love took over. Their intentions became clear during the first night they met, as Willis made a move.
“I’d never encountered treatment like this before,” Moore wrote in her memoir, Inside Out.
“Bruce was so gallant- in his own boisterous way, a real gentleman. When I said it was time for me to go home, he offered to walk me to my car. He was so eager about it- Like a little boy who didn’t want to miss the ice-cream truck. When he asked for my number, I felt a wave of schoolgirl flutters.”
Willis and Moore got married the same year. They welcomed three daughters together, Rumer (born 1988), Scout (1991), and Tallulah (1994).
In 1988, Bruce took the next step in his successful Hollywood career.
He starred as New York cop John McClane in Die Hard, and the catchphrase “Yippee-ki-yay” has since become a somewhat legendary film quote.
“Die Hard is probably the closest I’ve come to showing what is in my heart on screen. 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,” Bruce told Closer Magazine in 1988.
“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. I don’t know any superheroes, I know guys who are afraid and have anxiety, and I think you know people like that, too. That’s what I wanted to play.
He added: “I really wanted to be honest about the moment you go through when you think your life is about to end. I wanted to play somebody who was afraid to die.”
Die Hard became a huge success, and Willis transformed into a big, tough guy, on-screen. In the following years, however, several of Willis’s films received negative reviews and got bad box office numbers.
He would ultimately get the last laugh when he starred as boxer Butch Coolidge in Quentin Tarantino’s classic Pulp Fiction in 1994. After two more Die Hard films, an action-filled performance in Armageddon, and a memorable role in The Sixth Sense, Bruce had cemented his place among Hollywood’s greatest actors.
At the time, Willis’ private life had changed plenty. In 2000, he and Demi Moore divorced. Since they were one of the power couples of Hollywood at the time, theirs was a very public breakup.
Wife Emma Heming
Seven years later, in 2007, Willis met his second wife, Emma Heming. The two were seen for the first time together in public in 2008, when she accompanied him at the Sundance Film Festival.
“When we first met, I was surprised at how charming and how funny he was – and extremely handsome,” Emma told People.
“I was already in love with her,” Bruce added.
After little more than a year of dating, in March 2009, Bruce and Emma married in the Turks and Caicos Islands. In 2012, they welcomed their first child, daughter Mabel. Two years later, second-daughter Evelyn was born.
“When I’m not working, my days are devoted to the women in my life. I don’t need anything more than tha,” Willis said of his children.
According to People’s sources, Demi, Bruce, and Emma Heming were all quarantined together during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2022, though, Willis’s life changed forever for he and his family. In March, tragically, it was revealed that he had being diagnosed with aphasia, a brain disorder that affects his ability to communicate.
“To Bruce’s amazing supporters, as a family we wanted to share that our beloved Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities. As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him,” the family wrote in a statement on Instagram.
“This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support,” the statement continued. “We are moving through this as a strong family unit, and wanted to bring his fans in because we know how much he means to you, as you do to him. As Bruce always says, ‘Live it up’ and together we plan to do just that. Love, Emma, Demi, Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Mabel, & Evelyn.”
Just one week later, Bruce officially announced his retirement from acting.
So what really happenes when a person gets aphasia? Speaking with Fox Baltimore, Dr. Duane Campbell, Chief of Neurology and Director of the Stroke Center at MedStar Health, explains it as a feeling of being “trapped.”
“It’s extremely frustrating because people feel trapped. I mean so much of quality of life is the ability to express yourself and communicate,” he said.