At Bruce Willis’ house “we still live to the fullest”. Dementia and the family as a shield –



Of Matteo Persivale

The wives (the current and the ex) and the five daughters united around the star tell of his cognitive decline on Instagram. With the power of love. After two years of lying on the sets, where he had become “just a puppet”

«I know why you are here… I know why you are here… but me, why am I here?». Bruce Willis looks around and doesn’t recognize anyone, no suggestions come from the headset that dictates the lines to repeat, around him so many people he doesn’t know and the lights of the spotlights, the camera, what a mess. “Why am I here?” Yeah, why? Why did Willis continue to work when he was ill? The square jaw was always that of the good old days, the muscles a little less wriggling than the days of the sweaty tank top scenes but after 60 it’s normal. However, his gaze had changed, vacant, and of the once arrogant ways that had made him a twenty-million-dollar-a-film star, there was nothing left. He continued to work because, quite simply, at the time of streaming, so much material is uploaded online that – open secret of the Hollywood business – films actually become “tiles” on TV or device screens simple menus to scroll through quickly, fed to an audience for whose attention competition is ruthless. And the unmistakable face of Willis on the film poster, the most famous shaved skull in the history of cinema are still worth a click, that is gold. Or better still, they’re worth two million dollars for two days of work, perhaps to be reduced to one after enormous pressure exerted on the unfortunate director.


Exactly two years ago, April 2021, it became clear to the whole crew that Bruce Willis was very ill: he was on the set of White elephant one of the very numerous action movies direct-to-video destined never to pass by the cinemas in which he has appeared in recent years (26 titles in 5 years, a couple of million dollars for a few days of work, generally no more than two) and could not repeat the lines that an assistant -caregiver promoted to co-producer ($200,000 per film) read in his earphone.

There were the productions that, diligently, digitally erased in post-production the traces of the headphones without which Willis could not work
. But there was someone who, out of sloppiness or because they had invested all their money in the cachet of the great declining star, streamed some sequences with the earphone clearly visible in Willis’ ear (whoever on the set began to wonder why Willis always had the earpiece it was explained that he had lost hearing in his left ear in the 1980s due to an accident on the set of Crystal trap : pity, however, that sometimes the headset was in one ear, sometimes in the other).

His “team” denied the evidence

The director of White elephant , Jesse V. Johnson had worked with the actor decades ago when Willis was still a stuntman. When she saw him again though, “He was clearly no longer the Bruce I remembered”. Willis’s “team” denied the evidence, even when on the set of another film, three years ago, Hard Kill fired his prop gun at the wrong time, terrifying everyone.

On the set of Out of Death director Mike Burns is told bluntly that all of Willis’ scenes need to be compressed — about 25 pages of dialogue, a huge amount, equivalent to twenty minutes of film – in a single day of shooting, with up to eight hours of work as per contract. The following year, Burns was offered another film with Willis: the star’s collaborators told him «he is much better, he is another person». In fact it had gotten even worse. They took it to Hawaii to shoot
Paradise City
alongside John Travolta and to rebuild the magical pair of pulp Fiction in 1994, centuries ago, but Willis was increasingly disoriented. As one crew member recently told the Los Angeles Times, “she was just a puppet.”


All the power of the Caa, the Hollywood agency accustomed to covering up situations of various kinds, was not enough. Giants like Caa, who work on commission, are very good at building images. They make appear devoted fathers of families and model husbands who are in reality devoted frequenters of high-end brothels, they know how to cover a bit of everything with an impenetrable blanket of discretion, including the weekends in Las Vegas of gambling stars who lose millions to casino tables. The show must go on as a declaration of intent: but not even the specialized denial agency can deny the symptoms of a degenerative neurological disease. So last summer an American gossip magazine reveals that Willis is ill, accusations substantiated by citing too many facts and people to be denied: and the family announces, only then, the no longer postponeable withdrawal from the scene due to a degenerative neurological disease. First the diagnosis is aphasia, finally frontotemporal dementia.

Shoot the protection of the nest

Since that announcement, however, everything changes. The sad puppet carried from one set to another in exchange for payments objectively disproportionate to her role – paid only, in reality, to deceptively appear on the film poster as the protagonist – is finally protected by her family. AND Casa Willis, the extended family of the actor, instead of surrounding the long decline of one of the most beloved stars of modern cinema with a cone of shadow, decides to keep the public informed with great attention and tenderness. Willis’ wife, Emma Heming, regularly posts Instagram messages and videos to keep the world informed about Willis’ health, and how the family is coping with the illness. And at Casa Willis – literally a house, because they spent the 2020 lockdown together – there is also Demi Moore. The star of Crystal trap and GI Jane actress were married in 1987, daughter Rumer arrived the following year (in homage to writer Rumer Godden) and then Scout and Tallulah in 1991 and 1994, respectively. Willis and Moore announced their separation in 1998filing for divorce two years later.

Two wives and daughters under one roof

In 2000 Willis had told a Rolling Stone after the divorce, that “I’m still very close to Demi, we have three daughters who we will continue to raise together, and are probably closer now than ever. We realize that we have a lifelong commitment to our children. Our friendship continues, but it’s hard to live under a magnifying glass.’ Eight years ago Rumer, an actress like her parents, explained in an interview with Larry King: «They have always made an effort to spend all the parties and important events still together, like a family, one family». Moore remarried Ashton Kutcher (2005-2013), Willis married Emma Heming in 2009, and by her he had daughters Mabel (2012) and Evelyn (2014). So when the inevitable moment arrives last year — publicly admitting that Willis is ill and will no longer be able to appear in public — the wife and ex-wife together with their respective daughters write a letter, on Instagram, «to the fantastic supporters of Bruce ».

Letter to fans on social media

The text: «As a family, together, we wanted to share this news with you: our beloved Bruce has been experiencing health problems, and was recently diagnosed with aphasia which is affecting his cognitive abilities. The result, after long reflection, is that Bruce is walking away from the career that meant so much to him. It’s a really busy time, we’re moving as a strong family unit and wanted to engage his fans because we know how much he means to you and how much you mean to him. As Bruce always says: “Live to the fullest”. Together we plan to do just that.” This strange, tender gynaeceum — sixty-year-old Demi and forty-year-old Emma best friends, three grown-up daughters and two little girls — gives the world updates via Instagram: Bruce in the countryside, the way he likes it, jeans and a down jacket and boots. Bruce barefoot in the garden. Bruce in pajamas with the rest of the family. Bruce with his wife’s mini-dog.

Don’t be afraid of tears

Last month, birthday: “I started the morning crying, as you can see from my swollen eyes,” says Emma in a video on Instagram. “It’s important that you see all sides of this situation… I get messages all the time where people are like, oh, you’re so cool, I don’t know how you do it. The truth is, I wasn’t given a choice. I wish I was strong, I’m also raising two little girls in this situation. So sometimes we have to put on our grown-up clothes and get there, to be strong. And that’s what I’m doing. But I have moments of sadness every day, of pain, every day … and I really feel it today, the sadness, for her birthday. So, I’ve been working on this video that I’m posting for my husband’s birthday. I don’t know why I do this, because videos are like a knife in my heart. I’m doing it for me, I’m doing it for you because I know how much you love my husband and — don’t cry, Emma — it means a lot to me. So thank you.”

The unexpected success and the love of the public

Why do people love Willis so much? Perhaps because he was the star of unexpected and unpredictable successes, of the – almost impossible – migration from television success (the brilliant comedy moonlighting with Cybill Shepherd) to the cinematographic one, to an unexpected and unpredictable monster success like Crystal trap That not only has he created a huge global community of fans (there’s Obama too) and spawned many sequels but he has directly created a genre. And Willis, however, after one, two, three flops, of those that usually kill a Hollywood career, always managed to extract from his jeans pocket, with his bold smile, a great success – pulp Fiction, The sixth sense, Armageddon, unbreakable . Just Unbreakable , now that his career is really over and it is possible to draw a balance, is according to many American and above all European critics (Willis is also a knight of arts and letters of the French republic) his greatest performance. It’s the story of a superhero who doesn’t know he is, an ordinary man in disbelief in front of his superpowers – a reluctant Superman.

The Glass Prophecy

The last good film by Willis is from 2019, before the orgy of mass-produced action films: it is entitled Glass and is the sequel, in extremis, of unbreakable , twenty years later. In hindsight we see that Willis is already ill, and director-friend M. Night Shyamalan (the one who resurrected his career thanks to The sixth sense and today he says «I would do anything for him and his family, I owe him everything») protects him by often filming him with a hooded sweatshirt to hide the headset, and in certain scenes we probably see a stunt double in his place. The ending, revised today, cannot help but make us cry: the hero who did not know he was indestructible, unbreakable, dies in a trivial way – drowned in a puddle, in a few centimeters of dirty water. His Achilles heel.


THE FAMILY – Bruce Willis was born on March 19, 1955 in Idar-Oberstein, on a US military base in West Germany. In 1957 the family returned to the USA

His springboard is the part of detective David Addison in the show moonlighting, with Cybil Shepherd (pictured). It’s 1987. The following year it’s around Crystal trapthe first film in the saga of Die Hard. It is the consecration

THE GOLDEN AGE – In 1994 he was in the cast of a masterpiece like pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino, then they come Armageddon – Final Judgment (1998), The sixth sense (1999), unbreakable (2000)

April 21, 2023 (change April 21, 2023 | 14:02)


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