Bruce Willis, via his family, may have only shared his aphasia diagnosis on Wednesday, but it seems his condition has been worsening for years now — affecting his ability to act long before his retirement announcement this week.
The Los Angeles Times spoke with a ton of directors, stars, and crew members who have worked alongside the legendary actor in the last few years, many of which had some concerning insight to share on the performer’s declining condition, including a scary gun misfire incident.
Aphasia, by the way, is a language disorder that is caused by brain damage. It affects a person’s ability to communicate. It’s unclear how long Bruce has been suffering from this diagnosis or what caused it. All we know is that things have escalated to a point where it’s finally time for him to step out of the spotlight as his family cares for him.
It appears his cognitive issues may have been impacting him for the last two years — at least in high-stress situations like film sets. According to Vanderpump Rules star Lala Kent, who played Bruce’s daughter in the 2020 film Hard Kill, he misfired a gun twice on set! In the scene, Willis’ character was supposed to be rescuing Lala. Her back was to him as he entered the scene and she was instructed to duck after he said a line that would cue her to move. She explained:
“I’m supposed to think my life is about to end, and then my dad steps in to save the day.”
The only problem was he didn’t say the line before firing the weapon! She recalled:
“Because my back was to him, I wasn’t aware of what was happening behind me. But the first time, it was like, ‘No big deal, let’s reset.’”
Keywords: “the first time.”
The actress asked the director, Matt Eskandari, to remind Willis to say his line before firing the gun, but, unfortunately, the same mistake happened again. Two other crew members confirmed this shocking story, but insisted they did their best to make sure everyone remained safe on set even if a possible misfire occurred:
“We always made sure no one was in the line of fire when he was handling guns.”
No injuries occurred, thankfully. But this approach hardly seems like an appropriate response to that kind of problem, especially now that we know how lethal prop guns can be following last year’s fatal Rust shooting. Interestingly, though, Randall Emmett, founder of the production company Emmett/Furla Oasis (who worked with Bruce on 20 films including Hard Kill) and the movie’s armorer decline that this scary incident ever happened. Hmm.
This isn’t the only concerning behavior the 67-year-old displayed while at work.
The Die Hard alum was also having difficulty remembering lines. Mike Burns, who directed Out of Death, recalled informing the film’s screenwriter via a June 2020 email that they needed to rewrite all of Bruce’s lines to be “short and sweet,” instructing:
“It looks like we need to knock down Bruce’s page count by about five pages. We also need to abbreviate his dialogue a bit so that there are no monologues, etc.”
When it came time to film, the director was tasked with capturing ALL of Willis’ scenes — about 25 pages in length — in ONE day. What?? The Times reported that in recent years, the actor was contracted to work only two eight-hour days, but those usually ended up being four-hour days. He would have a body double replace him for a majority of scenes when possible and wear an earpiece to have another actor feed lines to him while filming. Some believe you can even see the earpiece in his new movie American Siege, which was filmed in 2020, so these issues have been prevalent for a while.
Mike recalled what it was like to arrive at the set of Out of Death, sharing with the LA Times:
“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.”
Another crew member reflected:
“Someone would give him a line and he didn’t understand what it meant. He was just being puppeted.”
Bruce’s health condition was so noticeable and problematic that when Burns was asked to direct the star’s follow-up film Wrong Place, he kindly declined even after his team tried to insist he was doing better. He explained:
“I didn’t think he was better; I thought he was worse. 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.”
He’s not the only director to walk away from a project either. Jesse V. Johnson, who first worked with the performer decades ago as a stuntman, teamed up with Willis to direct White Elephant in Georgia last April. He noticed a change instantly:
“It was clear that he was not the Bruce I remembered.”
Two crew members even recalled him asking one day:
“I know why you’re here, and I know why you’re here, but why am I here?”
Wow. He was that confused? That’s so, so sad. Noticing the striking differences in Bruce, the director asked his team about his condition, but they urged that he was fine, Jesse reflected:
“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.”
After this, the filmmaker also declined to work with the dad of five again.
“After our experience on White Elephant, it was decided as a team that we would not do another. 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.”
Heartwarmingly, everyone who worked with him in his last few films seems to care deeply about the way he was portrayed on screen and remembered in the public eye, a crew member mused:
“It was less of an annoyance and more like: ‘How do we not make Bruce look bad?’”
It’s such a bummer to see an icon in the industry go out this way. He’s clearly incredibly well-respected among his peers, who seemed to be looking out for him at every turn as his health declined. We’re wishing Bruce and his family well in this tough time.