8 Surprising Facts About Bruce Willis
By Jake Rossen
On March 30, 2022, Bruce Willis's family members, including ex-wife Demi Moore and their three daughters, posted a joint statement to their social media accounts announcing that Willis would be retiring from acting due to a recent health diagnosis.
"Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities,” the statement read. “As a result of this and with much consideration, Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him.”
From his turns as unlikely action hero John McClane in the Die Hard series to smaller supporting roles in 1994’s Pulp Fiction and 1995’s Nobody’s Fool, Willis has consistently surprised audiences with his eclectic career choices. For more on Willis, including his recording career and how he made movie history with 1988’s original Die Hard, keep reading.
1. Bruce Willis was born in West Germany.
Walter Bruce Willis, the son of a military man, was born on March 19, 1955, while his father was stationed in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany. Just two years later, parents David and Marlene Willis moved to Carneys Point, New Jersey, where he spent part of his time in both high school and at Montclair State University trying his hand at acting. After his sophomore year, Willis decided to leave college and head to New York City to pursue a performing career.
2. Bruce Willis may have been one of the best bartenders in New York City.
While auditioning for acting roles and scoring the occasional break—he appeared in an off-Broadway play, Heaven and Earth, in 1977—Willis tended bar at Chelsea Central on New York City's Upper West Side. According to actor John Goodman, who knew Willis before either of them became famous, Willis was notable even then. “Bruce was the best bartender in New York,” Goodman told The New York Post in 2017. “He kept an entire joint entertained all night. He just kept the show going. He was amazing.”
3. Bruce Willis was cast in Moonlighting even though ABC thought the role was “uncastable.”
Willis had done only some stage work and bit parts in movies like 1980’s The First Deadly Sin with Frank Sinatra and 1982’s The Verdict with Paul Newman before he went in to audition for ABC’s Moonlighting, a send-up of detective dramas. At the time, the role of David Addison was proving so difficult to cast that the network was looking to pay creator Glenn Gordon Caron, director Bob Butler, and co-star Cybill Shepherd to abandon the project. Then Willis auditioned, beating out 3000 other hopefuls and securing the part. The series ran from 1985 to 1989.
4. Thanks to Die Hard, Bruce Willis changed Hollywood salaries forever.
While doing Moonlighting, Willis spent his hiatus shooting feature films like 1987’s Blind Date with Kim Basinger. But it was 1988’s Die Hard that cemented him as a big-screen attraction. The action film about a New York City cop trapped in a Los Angeles skyscraper with his estranged wife and a group of terrorists was a hot commodity, and 20th Century Fox agreed to pay Willis the then-astronomical sum of $5 million for the role. (Richard Gere and Clint Eastwood were also considered.) At the time, major stars like Tom Cruise and Michael J. Fox were getting roughly $3 million a picture. The payday for Willis had other performers taking notice, and salaries reportedly went up as a result.
“It was an enormous amount of money at the time,” Willis told Entertainment Weekly in 2007. “And I was a TV actor! The day after I signed the deal, every actor in Hollywood’s salary went up to $5 million.”
5. The Bruce Willis movie Hudson Hawk was based on a song.
Following Die Hard, Willis was a proven box office commodity that could help projects get made. In 1991, he starred in Hudson Hawk, a critical and commercial disappointment about a jewel thief with a love of music who is hired to steal from the Vatican. The film was based in part on a song written by musician Robert Kraft in 1981. Kraft knew Willis, then a bartender and actor, and shared it with him. Over the years, the two continued to shape the song, adding characters and stories. Eventually, it wound up in the hands of screenwriters Stephen De Souza and Daniel Waters.
6. Bruce Willis all but disappeared in Nobody’s Fool.
In contrast to conventional wisdom of the era, Willis parlayed his success as an action hero into opportunities to work with actors and directors he found interesting—even if it meant taking a small supporting role. (Willis spent just 22 minutes onscreen in 1994’s Pulp Fiction as boxer Butch Coolidge.) For 1995’s Nobody’s Fool, he passed on his normal $15 million fee to take $1400 a week since it meant working with Paul Newman. (Newman had forgotten the then-unknown Willis was a bit player in Newman’s 1982 film, The Verdict.) Because Willis felt so strongly Nobody’s Fool was Newman’s film, he opted out of having his photo included in the press kit and his name wasn’t in the production notes.
7. Bruce Willis had his own cartoon series.
In 1996, Willis lent his voice to Bruno the Kid, a syndicated animated series about an 11-year-old spy named Bruno who convinces his handlers he’s really an adult. “Bruno” was Willis’s nickname growing up as well as the name of his musical alter ego. In 1987, Willis released an album, The Return of Bruno, along with a cable special. The cartoon lasted one season.
8. Bruce Willis never finished shooting one of his movies.
In 1997, Willis started shooting Broadway Brawler, a romantic comedy about a washed-up hockey player falling in love. Just 20 days into shooting, Willis used his powers as producer to fire director Lee Grant, Grant’s husband and producer Joe Feury, cinematographer William Fraker, and wardrobe designer Carol Oditz—all reportedly over creative differences. The problems continued even after replacement director Dennis Dugan was brought on board. Rather than continue to waste money on the $28 million movie, studio Cinergi opted to shut it down. Cinergi’s parent company, Disney, absorbed the production costs in exchange for Willis agreeing to star in three Disney movies: Armageddon (1998); The Sixth Sense (1999), Willis’s biggest hit to date; and The Kid (2000).