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The End Of Bruce Willis' Career Is More Tragic Than You Think

Major news struck the film industry recently when Rumer Willis, Bruce Willis' daughter, posted to Instagram to publicly announce that her father had recently been diagnosed with aphasia and would retire from acting as a result. Aphasia, a condition that affects a person's ability to communicate, most frequently presents itself in people who have experienced a stroke or other trauma to the part of the brain that processes language, according to the Boston Globe. According to the Globe, one form of the condition can lead to dementia and in rare cases, Alzheimer's disease.

The announcement of Willis' retirement — signed by Rumer and her siblings; Willis' ex-wife, Demi Moore; and Willis' current wife, Emma Heming — makes no mention of the actor experiencing a stroke or any other brain trauma. Willis' eldest child, who is also an actor, merely wrote that her father's condition is affecting his cognitive abilities. In retirement, Willis leaves behind a legendary acting career, particularly in action films such as the "Die Hard" movies and Quentin Tarantino's groundbreaking "Pulp Fiction." While the news that Willis will no longer make movies came suddenly, it casts new light on years of bizarre career choices and rumors throughout the film industry that the 67-year-old's health had declined.

Bruce Willis' aphasia diagnosis came after years of odd acting choices and bizarre working schedules

A recent article by the Los Angeles Times sheds new light on both the announcement of Bruce Willis' aphasia diagnosis and years of reported odd on-set behavior. According to the outlet, Willis was often fed lines through an earpiece by actor Adam Huel Potter, who was reportedly given small roles in many recent movies featuring Willis for helping the actor with his lines.

The Times also reports that filmmakers frequently resorted to using body doubles for the majority of Willis' action scenes. Furthermore, Willis' managers at the Creative Artists Agency ensured in recent years that Willis never spent more than two days on any set and that his contracts stipulated that the actor would never work more than 8 hours a day; reportedly, Willis would frequently leave after half that amount of time. Despite this seemingly low level of participation, the Times reports that Willis was often paid $2 million for these two days of work.

One director whom the Times interviewed, Mike Burns, said that he was asked to cut down roughly 25 pages of scenes for Willis into one day of filming for "Out of Death" in summer 2020. Burns even reportedly emailed the film's screenwriter to ask that Willis' dialogue be cut back to keep his lines "short and sweet." The director told the Times that he was aware that Willis was struggling with his memory by that time, but he said that after working with the actor on a second movie, "Wrong Place," in 2021, he felt that Willis' condition had grown worse.

On-set incidents gave filmmakers a sense that something was wrong with Bruce Willis' health

Director Jesse V. Johnson told the Los Angeles Times that Bruce Willis' condition clearly made the actor behave differently than he had when the two had worked together in the past. When Johnson asked Willis' team directly about the 67-year-old's health on the set of "White Elephant" in April 2021, Willis' handlers largely deflected and asked that they wrap Willis' scenes before lunchtime, the director said. Two crew members on the same movie told the Times that Willis appeared confused about where he was while filming, putting the crew in the difficult situation of trying not to embarrass the legendary actor even as he reportedly struggled to understand his own lines. "[Willis] was just being puppeted," a crew member said.

Actor Lala Kent told the Times that when she filmed the movie "Hard Kill" with Willis in 2020, Willis failed multiple times to deliver a line meant to prompt Kent to duck before firing a gun — even after Kent reportedly asked the production's director, Matt Eskandari, to remind Willis to speak his line first. Two crew members on that film who spoke to the Times anonymously reported remembering Kent's appearing "shaken" by the incident and that Willis fired the weapon during the wrong line, although they also stressed that the production made sure nobody was in Willis' line of fire while he was carrying it.

Johnson, for his part, said that he turned down further opportunities to work with Willis after "White Elephant," saying that the arrangements made necessary by Willis' team made his own creative team feel uncomfortable.

Bruce Willis has appeared in more than 20 movies since 2018

Although Bruce Willis' aphasia diagnosis was only made public recently, fans and media members alike have questioned why a significant Hollywood figure like Willis has made so many low-budget movies in recent years. While the Los Angeles Times reports that Willis has made 22 films in four years, IMDb lists him as a cast member in 31 productions since 2018, including six films in post-production, three of which have no set release date. When "Hard Kill" was released in 2020, Esquire's Chris Nashawaty penned an analysis of Willis' work throughout the last decade and questioned why the actor bothered making a film "every bit as generic as its title would lead you to believe."

Willis' reported net worth sits somewhere around $250 million, according to the website Celebrity Net Worth. However, the Esquire piece suggested at the time that Willis' frequent appearances in such poorly received movies either had something to do with keeping up with the luxurious lifestyle of a movie star or was a simple desire for fans to continue seeing him as an action star the way fans remember his roles in the "Die Hard" franchise and "Pulp Fiction." Given the actor's retirement, these roles could now be seen as him trying to keep working as much as possible until it grew untenable for him to continue appearing in new films.

Hollywood's reponses to Bruce Willis' retirement

Some in the film and television industries appear to be reframing their experiences working with and interacting with Bruce Willis in recent years given the news of his aphasia diagnosis and subsequent retirement from acting.

Actor, writer, and director Kevin Smith, known best for 1994's "Clerks," posted to Twitter that he now feels poorly for the negative comments he made about working with Willis as the director of 2010's "Cop Out." Rumors swirled during the production of that movie that Smith and Willis did not get along; according to /Film, Smith even reportedly insulted Willis at the film's wrap-up party, which Willis did not attend. Smith expressed disdain for his experience working with Willis in a 2011 appearance on the podcast "WTF with Marc Maron," telling the host that Willis was less than cooperative while making the movie (via Page Six).

Similarly, the Razzie Awards, which hand out satirical awards for the worst in film each year, rescinded Willis' 2021 "award" (via IndieWire). The organization had created a new category, worst performance by Bruce Willis in a 2021 movie, due to the eight movies Willis starred in during 2021, awarding Willis' worst performance to his role in "Cosmic Sin." "If someone's medical condition is a factor in their decision[-]making and/or their performance, we acknowledge that it is not appropriate to give them a Razzie," the awards show said in a statement to IndieWire.

How Bruce Willis' family and friends are responding to his retirement

After Rumer Willis first shared the news that her father would be retiring from acting following his aphasia diagnosis, another one of his daughters, Scout Willis, took to Instagram to share her reaction to the family's major news. Scout expressed that she had been unsure how it would be received by the public and that she could not have anticipated the warm, caring reaction to the news of Bruce Willis' retirement from fans, friends, and family alike.

"It kept hitting me yesterday how much love, energy, and prayers were now being sent to my daddio and just humbling me in a way that's [sic] brings tears as I write this," Scout wrote in a caption alongside a photo of her with her father as well as a photo of a younger Willis striking a humorous pose.

People Magazine also spoke with "a friend close to Bruce" who wanted to speak anonymously about the actor's retirement. The friend described Willis as one of Hollywood's most well-loved movie stars and complimented his sense of humor and devotion to his family as they wished him well in the next phase of his life.

Willis' wife, Emma Heming, posted an Instagram Story expressing gratitude for the public's compassionate response to the news surrounding her husband as well.