When he portrayed detective David Addison in the 1980s television sensation Moonlighting, Bruce Willis’ career was established. With the success of the action blockbuster Die Hard in 1988, he established himself as a legitimate cinematic star. Willis continued to be one of the most well-known performers of his generation because to roles in later blockbusters like Pulp Fiction (1994) and The Sixth Sense (1999), as well as his marriage to actress Demi Moore. His most recent movies include Moonrise Kingdom (2010), Red (2010), and The Expendables (2010). (2012).
On March 19, 1955, Walter Bruce Willis was born in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany, where his father was serving in the American military. Willis is the eldest of the four children that David and Marlene Willis have, which also includes a daughter and three sons. Willis and his family relocated to Carney’s Point, New Jersey, in 1957 when his father was honorably discharged from the service.
There, as he witnessed his father support the family via work as a welder and subsequently a factory worker, the seeds for the gritty, blue-collar edge that has come to characterize so many of Willis’ roles were planted.
By all accounts, Willis, who was given the nickname “Bruno” by his classmates, was a popular child with a strong sense of humor who was chosen Student Council President in his senior year of high school. He enjoyed pulling practical jokes and wasn’t beyond getting into mischief on occasion. Yet there was also a softer side to him, one centered on his love of the stage and the theater. Oddly enough, the discovery that a speech impediment that had afflicted him as a child disappeared as soon as he started performing in front of huge crowds gave rise to it.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Willis found manual labor after high school, first as a security guard and later in a chemical industry, before going back to school to study acting at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Willis’ enthusiasm in acting remained strong, and after his sophomore year he decided to leave school and come to New York City to try to make it as a working actor.
Work wasn’t easy for Willis, whose acting role models include John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Steve McQueen, and Robert De Niro. He worked as a waiter, a bartender, and, when given the chance, an actor. In 1977, he had his off-Broadway debut in the play Heaven and Earth, which was his first significant break of any kind. After doing further theater work, Willis transitioned to film in 1980 after landing a small part in the Frank Sinatra movie The First Deadly Sin. He received another small role in Paul Newman’s The Verdict two years later. Also, there was some exposure on television thanks to sporadic cameos in Hart to Hart and Miami Vice episodes.
Movies and TV Shows
After taking over Ed Harris’ role in the off-Broadway sensation Fool for Love, Willis traveled to Hollywood in 1984 to try out for the Madonna film Desperately Seeking Susan. Willis didn’t get the role, but he stayed around for an extra day to try out for a new romantic TV sitcom called Moonlighting, which was scheduled to premiere the following March.
According to the account, Willis read for the part of a wisecracking private investigator named David Addison while wearing war fatigues and a punk hairstyle. He beat out about 3,000 other performers by impressing the TV bosses with his gregariousness and engaging demeanor.
The plot of the movie Moonlighting, which also starred Cybill Shepherd, focused on the detective work of Maddie Hayes (Shepherd) and Addison of the Blue Moon Detective Agency. The program, which ran from May 1988 until May 1989, was a major success for ABC and a huge springboard for Willis. According to ABC talent vice president Gary Pudney, “Men fantasize that they could be like him, and women find him attractive.” It explains why he has swiftly grown to be such a significant resource for us.
Willis made a comedic comeback in 1987 with the role of Kim Basinger in the movie Blind Dating.
Willis wed Demi Moore, another actor, in the same year. Willis, a fervent fan of the blues and a skilled harmonica player, entered the recording studio for Motown Records to make Return to Bruno, a collection of bluesy soul songs that saw only limited sales success.
Die Hard, an action-packed movie starring Bruce Willis as the hulking hero John McClane, made a big splash on movie screens all over the country in the summer of 1988. Because Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger both declined the role of McClane, the movie was able to garner some attention even before its debut. Movie producers chose Willis, in part because he added warmth and humor to the role, and they agreed to pay him $5 million, which was a sizable sum for an actor who many still regarded as a relative Hollywood newcomer.
The audience was uninterested. Die Hard earned an astonishing $81 million at the domestic box office and inspired four sequels thanks to Willis’ self-performed stunts and unforgettable one-liners. It was only the beginning for Willis, who went on to star in movies with over $3 billion in box office revenue over the next decades.
A year after Die Hard, Willis was behind the wheel of another smash blockbuster, this time in Look Who’s Talking, where he voiced Mikey, the infant who is always on the lookout. Reviews of his performance as the English tabloid journalist in Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) were unfavorable, and in 1991, Willis wrote and starred in Hudson Hawk, an action film that served as something of a vanity project but failed at the box office. Soon after, other, less noteworthy projects appeared.
Pulp Fiction, Armageddon, and The Sixth Sense
When he played the aged boxer Butch Coolidge in the Quentin Tarantino-helmed mega film Pulp Fiction in 1994, Willis made a sort of return. Willis reportedly decided to accept a small wage ($1,685 per week) in exchange for a cut of the movie’s earnings after recognizing its potential success. The movie eventually made more than $100 million in revenue.
From there, a string of successes continued, including the sci-fi action film Armageddon in 1998 and the third Die Hard movie (Die Hard: With a Vengeance) in 1995. Willis played Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist, in the M. Night Shyamalan film The Sixth Sense in 1999, and he worked with Shyamalan again the following year on the superhero movie Unbreakable. He continued to keep himself busy by appearing in a variety of comedic films, including The Whole Nine Yards (2000), and on television shows including Ally McBeal, Crazy About You, and Friends.
Sin City, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Expendables
Willis displayed no signs of slowing down, displaying a range that matched a harder edge (Moonrise Kingdom) with a gentler touch (Sin City and Red), quick comedic timing (The Whole Ten Yards), and muscular intimidation (Red).
Willis appeared in The Expendables in 2010 alongside Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and other action stars. In 2012, he reunited with the film’s cast to star in The Expendables 2. Within just one week, the movie had climbed to the No. 1 spot at the box office, bringing in nearly $28.6 million.
Willis has since appeared in the sci-fi flick Looper (2012) as an older version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, and reprised some of his earlier roles in A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), Red 2 (2013), and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014). Along with maintaining a full slate of screen work, the veteran actor made his Broadway debut in 2015 in a stage adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery.
Subsequent films featured Willis back in tough-guy mode, among them Once Upon a Time in Venice (2017), Acts of Violence (2018), a remake of Death Wish (2018) and Reprisal (2018). That year, he was also the subject of a Comedy Central roast, with ex-wife Moore among the talent assembled to crack jokes at his expense.
Later Career, Retirement, and Health
Since 2019, the veteran actor has remained busy with more than 30 film and TV credits to his name, including voice work inThe Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019) and the Detective Knight action-thriller trilogy in which he starred.
In March 2022, Willis announced his retirement from acting, via a family statement on Instagram, after being diagnosed with aphasia. The neurological condition affects the ability to communicate, including speech and comprehension.
In February 2023, Willis and his family announced his condition progressed to frontotemporal dementia.
In 1987, Willis married actress Demi Moore. The couple, who divorced in 2000, have three children together: Rumer Willis (b. 1988), Scout LaRue Willis (b. 1991) and Tallulah Belle Willis (b. 1994).
On March 21, 2009, Willis, who remains close to ex-wife Demi Moore (he attended her wedding to Ashton Kutcher in 2005) and shared custody of his three children with her, backtracked on his pledge never to marry again, when he tied the knot with model-actress Emma Heming at the Turks and Caicos Islands. They then married again a few days later in a civil ceremony at Willis’ California home. Willis and Heming have two daughters, Mabel Ray (b. 2012) and Evelyn Penn (b. 2014).