While fans of actor Bruce Willis are heartbroken over the announcement Wednesday by his family that he is stepping away from acting due to a condition called “aphasia,” which is affecting his cognitive abilities, Hollywood insiders have revealed that Willis’s decline has been a subject of concern for years, citing one example from two years ago, when Willis reportedly misfired a gun loaded with a blank on a Cincinnati set.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Willis, who often earned $2 million for just two days’ work, has, on his more recent films, been struggling to remember his lines. The actor was routinely fed his dialogue through an earpiece by a fellow actor, and a body double was used for filming the fight scenes — especially those involving guns — that made the 67-year-old icon famous.
On the Cincinnati set of the movie “Hard Kill,” Willis rattled the actors and crewmembers when he mistakenly fired the blank-filled weapon on the wrong cue, according to two anonymous sources familiar with the matter, despite the film producer’s insistence that the event never actually happened. No one was injured, but nerves were reportedly shot.
As AWN reported, Willis has been diagnosed with a condition known as “aphasia,” which affects one’s ability to communicate.
Bruce Willis came to see us in Kuwait. This was 9-10 months into the Iraq invasion. There weren’t great facilities of any kind. And it was BRUTALLY hot there. But we were leaving Iraq and coming home and he brought his band over there and played music for us. We loved him for it.
— Jesse Kelly (@JesseKellyDC) March 30, 2022
Aphasia is caused by damage to the portion of the brain that controls comprehension and expression, and in addition to affecting speech, it can impact “the way you write and understand both spoken and written language,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
While the cause of Willis’s aphasia remains unclear, the damage is typically sustained during a stroke or injury to the head, or it can be a symptom of a slow-growing brain tumor or disease.
In Willis’s case, the effects necessitated the cutting of much of his dialogue.
Mike Burns, director of “Out of Death” — just one of a staggering 22 films Willis shot in a four-year span — knew there was something serious at play when he was given the unenviable job of shortening the actor’s scenes, to the tune of about 25 pages of dialogue.
“After the first day of working with Bruce, I could see it firsthand and I realized that there was a bigger issue at stake here and why I had been asked to shorten his lines,” Burns told The Times.
When Burns was given another script to which Willis was attached last fall — a film entitled, “Wrong Place” — he contacted one of Willis’s associates to check on Willis’s condition and was told Willis was “a whole different person … way better than last year.”
Burn said he took the associate at his word, but quickly discovered the heartbreaking truth.
“I didn’t think he was better; I thought he was worse,” Burns said. “After we finished, I said: ‘I’m done. I’m not going to do any other Bruce Willis movies.'”
“I am relieved that he is taking time off,” Burns added.
Man, I’m so bummed about Bruce Willis. One of the few Hollywood actors I like.
— Catturd ™ (@catturd2) March 31, 2022
According to Jesse V. Johnson, director of the low-budget “White Elephant,” which shot in Georgia last April, “it was clear that he was not the Bruce I remembered,” referring to the days, decades ago, when he’d worked with Willis as a stuntman.
Johnson was reportedly so concerned, he spoke of Willis’s condition to Stephen J. Eads, whom The Times describes as Willis’s “assistant-turned-handler.”
“They stated that he was happy to be there, but that it would be best if we could finish shooting him by lunch and let him go early,” said Johnson.
According to two crewmembers, Willis was not even certain where he was, once stating, “I know why you’re here, and I know why you’re here, but why am I here?”
“It was less of an annoyance and more like: ‘How do we not make Bruce look bad?'” one crew member stated. “Someone would give him a line and he didn’t understand what it meant. He was just being puppeted.”
Johnson was offered the chance to direct Willis in two more films, but after discussing it with his team, he made the difficult decision to pass.
“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.”
The announcement confirming Willis’s condition and departure from acting came in the form of a joint statement from his adoring family, uploaded Wednesday on social media.
On her Instagram account, the former wife and mother to many of Willis’s children, actress Demi Moore, posted:
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 message expressed love and gratitude for the support of Willis’s many fans and was signed, “Emma, Demi, Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Mabel, & Evelyn.”
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