Bruce Willis’ career took off when he landed the role of detective David Addison in the 1980s TV show Moonlighting. With the success of the action blockbuster Die Hard in 1988, he established himself as a legitimate cinematic star. Willis’ following appearances in films such as Pulp Fiction (1994) and The Sixth Sense (1999), as well as his marriage to actress Demi Moore, ensured that he remained one of the most well-known actors of his generation. His most recent films include The Expendables (2010), Red (2010), and Moonrise Kingdom (2012).
Willis was born on March 19, 1955, in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany, where his father was stationed in the United States military at the time. Willis is the eldest of David and Marlene Willis’ four children, three sons and a girl. Willis moved to Carney’s Point, New Jersey, with his family in 1957, following his father’s discharge from the service.
The seeds for Willis’ tough, blue-collar edge were established there, as he watched his father feed the family via work as a welder and eventually as a factory employee.
Willis, dubbed “Bruno” by his friends, was a popular child with a strong sense of humor who was voted Student Council President in high school. He enjoyed pranks and was not beyond getting into mischief. Along with this, he had a slightly softer side that was based on his interest in theater and the stage. It sprang, curiously enough, from the discovery that a stammer that hampered his speech as a child vanished as soon as he began performing in front of large people.
Willis followed in his father’s footsteps after high school, working with his hands in a chemical factory and then as a security guard before returning to the classroom as a theater student at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Willis’ enthusiasm in acting did not fade, but anxious to set out on his own, he dropped out of school after his sophomore year and relocated to New York City to try his luck as a working actor.
Work wasn’t easy for Willis, whose acting inspirations include Robert De Niro, Gary Cooper, Steve McQueen, and John Wayne. He waited tables, tended the bar, and auditioned for roles whenever he could. His first great break came in 1977, when he made his off-Broadway debut in the drama Heaven and Earth. Additional stage work followed, but in 1980, Willis made the transition to film with a cameo in Frank Sinatra’s The First Deadly Sin. He landed another tiny role in The Verdict, starring Paul Newman, two years later. There was also some television exposure, with cameos on episodes of Hart to Hart and Miami Vice.
Movies and TV Shows
After replacing Ed Harris in the off-Broadway hit Fool for Love in 1984, Willis traveled to Hollywood to audition for Madonna’s film Desperately Seeking Susan. Willis didn’t get the part, but in a brilliant move, he stayed an additional day to audition for a new romantic TV sitcom called Moonlighting, which was slated to premiere the following March.
According to the account, Willis dressed in war fatigues and sported a punk hairstyle when he auditioned for the role of David Addison, a wisecracking private investigator. He outperformed 3,000 other actors by impressing TV execs with his gregariousness and attractive demeanor.
Moonlighting, starring Cybill Shepherd, followed the crime-solving escapades of Maddie Hayes (Shepherd) and Addison of the Blue Moon Detective Agency. The show, which aired until May 1989, was a great success for ABC and a huge launching pad for Willis. “Women find him intriguing, and men fantasize of being like him,” ABC talent vice president Gary Pudney told People magazine. “That’s why he’s quickly become such a valuable commodity to us.”
Willis returned to film in 1987, when he co-starred with Kim Basinger in the comedy Blind Date.
Willis married fellow actor Demi Moore the same year. Willis, an avid blues aficionado and harmonica player, also entered the Motown Records studio to make Return to Bruno, a collection of bluesy soul songs that garnered a moderate sales return.
Die Hard, an action-packed film starring Willis as muscle-pumping hero John McClane, hit theaters throughout the country with a bang in the summer of 1988. Even before its release, the picture had garnered some attention, thanks in part to the fact that both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger had turned down the role of John McClane. When movie execs decided on Willis, in part because he added warmth and humor to the character, they agreed to pay him $5 million, a large figure for an actor many still thought to be a relative Hollywood newcomer.
The audience was unconcerned. Die Hard, which featured Willis performing his own stunts and delivering iconic one-liners, grossed an astonishing $81 million at the American box office and spawned four sequels. It was just the beginning for Willis, who has since acted in films that have made more than $3 billion in ticket sales.
A year after Die Hard, Willis was at the wheel of another smash, this time as the voice of Mikey, the ever-observant infant, in Look Who’s Talking. His performance as an English tabloid writer in Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) received mixed reviews, and the action film Hudson Hawk, which Willis authored and acted in, was a box office disappointment in 1991. Other, less notable initiatives came soon after.
Pulp Fiction, Armageddon, and The Sixth Sense
Willis made a sort of comeback in 1994, when he played seasoned boxer Butch Coolidge in Quentin Tarantino’s smash movie Pulp Fiction. Willis agreed to take a small wage ($1,685 per week) in exchange for a portion of the earnings, maybe sensing the film’s success. The picture grossed more than $100 million.
From there, there was a consistent stream of hits, from the third installment of the Die Hard series (Die Hard: With a Vengeance) in 1995 through the 1998 sci-fi action thriller Armageddon. Willis had one of his most notable roles as child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense in 1999, and he reteamed with Shyamalan the following year for the superhero film Unbreakable. He also continued to work in comedy (2000’s The Whole Nine Yards) and on television (Ally McBeal, Crazy About You, and Friends).
Sin City, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Expendables
Willis showed no signs of slowing down, displaying a range that included muscular intimidation (Sin City and Red), razor-sharp comedic timing (The Whole Ten Yards), and a softer touch (Moonrise Kingdom) that few actors can match.
Willis appeared in The Expendables in 2010 alongside Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and other action heroes. He reunited with the actors of The Expendables 2 in 2012 to star. Within one week, the film had risen to the top of the box office, grossing approximately $28.6 million.
Willis has since recreated several of his earlier roles in A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), Red 2 (2013), and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2012), as an older version of Joseph Gordon-character. Levitt’s (2014). Coupled with a busy film schedule, the seasoned actor made his Broadway debut in 2015 in a stage adaption of Stephen King’s Misery.
Following films saw Willis in tough-guy mode, including Once Once a Time in Venice (2017), Acts of Violence (2018), a remake of Death Wish (2018), and Reprisal (2018). (2018). He was also the focus of a Comedy Central roast that year, with ex-wife Moore among the talent gathering to throw jokes at his expense.
Later Career, Retirement, and Health
Since 2019, the veteran actor has maintained a busy schedule, with over 30 film and television credits to his name, including voice work in The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019) and the Detective Knight action-thriller trilogy, in which he starred.
Willis announced his retirement from acting in March 2022, via a family message on Instagram, after being diagnosed with aphasia. The neurological disorder impairs communication abilities such as speech and comprehension.
Willis and his family reported in February 2023 that his ailment had progressed to frontotemporal dementia.
Willis married actress Demi Moore in 1987. Rumer Willis (born 1988), Scout LaRue Willis (born 1991), and Tallulah Belle Willis (born 2000) are the couple’s three children (b. 1994).
Willis, who is still close to ex-wife Demi Moore (he attended her wedding to Ashton Kutcher in 2005) and shares custody of his three children with her, broke his promise to never marry again on March 21, 2009, when he married model-actress Emma Heming in the Turks and Caicos Islands. They married again a few days later in a civil ceremony at Willis’ home in California. Willis and Heming have two children, Mabel Ray (born in 2012) and Evelyn Penn (born in 2014). (b. 2014).