In the late ‘80s, macho men like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone dominated action movies. Luckily, those men and a few others turned down the role of John McClane, paving the way for Bruce Willis to become the everyday, working man hero with a receding hairline who lacked an eight pack.
Willis became a megastar practically overnight with his breakout role on the hit show Moonlighting. He has consistently surprised audiences with his diverse career choices by appearing in films like Pulp Fiction and Nobody’s Fool. But even “Die Hard” Bruce Willis fans don’t know these things about him.
From Germany to Jersey
Bruce Willis, born Walter Bruce Willis, might play an All-American hero in most of his films, but he wasn’t born in the United States. In 1955, Willis was born in Germany to a German mother and American soldier father stationed overseas. After being discharged, his father, David, moved the family to Carneys Point, New Jersey.
Willis described his parents as “hard blue-collar workers.” His father worked multiple jobs as a welder, master mechanic, and factory worker, while his mother, Marlene, worked in a bank. They provided a middle-class lifestyle for Willis and his three younger siblings, Florence, David Jr., and Robert.
Acting Helped His Stutter
While it might be hard to believe now, Willis used to struggle with a stutter. During his time at Penns Grove High School, his classmates nicknamed him “Buck-Buck” for his speech troubles. It would have turned some people away from public speaking, but Willis joined the drama club, and something magical happened.
Willis found that acting on stage reduced his stutter. He auditioned for every school play because he felt comfortable on the stage. When he wasn’t in front of a crowd, his stutter returned. Willis figured he would stick with acting. He was also elected student council president.
Private Investigator Willis
In 1973, Willis graduated high school and started working as a security guard at the Salem Nuclear Power Plant. He also transported crew members at the DuPont Chambers Works factory in Deepwater, New Jersey. Willis had a few odd jobs to support himself while figuring out what he wanted to do.
Willis then started working as a private investigator. Oddly enough, he would later play one in the comedy-drama Moonlighting. While he enjoyed his work, Willis figured out that he wanted to go to college and pursue acting because being a private investigator wasn’t fulfilling his dreams. He had bigger ideas for himself.
Off to College
When Willis decided he wanted to pursue acting, he enrolled in the drama program at Montclair State University. He was cast in a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Willis must have thought he learned everything he could while studying at Montclair because he dropped out in his sophomore year.
Instead of finishing his degree, Willis packed his bags and moved to New York City to try to make it as a professional actor. Although he didn’t move far from his family, he supported himself and lived in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Willis had to make money because small acting jobs didn’t pay much.
Best Bartender in Town
While auditioning for roles and landing the occasional break, Willis worked at a bar on the Upper East Side. Actor John Goodman, who knew Willis before either of them became famous, said Willis was well-known in other circles for his skills.
Apparently, Willis was the best bartender in New York. Goodman told the New York Post that the actor would keep the whole bar entertained, and he never stopped the party. People would come to the bar just for him, and it was very good for business.
Getting His Start
During his time in New York, Willis performed as an extra in Paul Newman’s closing scene in The Verdict. He then served as an understudy for Ed Harris in the off-Broadway premiere of the 1983 play Fool for Love. He later took over the role a year later.
However, New York wasn’t working out for his career, so Willis moved to California. He got small roles in Miami Vice and The Twilight Zone. Willis took any small role he was offered, but it would take a few years before he got his big break.
His Big Break
Willis stuck out like a sore thumb when he auditioned for the lead role in Moonlighting. He showed up in an army uniform with spiky hair and one earring. Surprisingly, he got the part, and his character looked nothing like that. He must have blown the producers away.
He went up against 3,000 other actors to become David Addison Jr. Willis starred opposite Cybill Shepherd, and this role helped him establish himself as an actor. The show ran for five seasons, and Willis became known as a comedy actor.
Against All Odds
Before Moonlighting, Willis had only done some stage work and small one-time TV and movie parts. At the time, the role of David Addison was proving too difficult to cast. ABC offered to pay creator Glenn Gordon Caron, director Bob Butler, and Shepherd to abandon the project.
When Willis showed up, they knew they had found their star. He somehow won a role that was deemed “uncastable.” ABC was happy to fill the part and proceed with the series. Moonlighting ran from 1985 to 1989.
He Changed Hollywood Salaries
While working on Moonlighting, Willis spent his downtime shooting feature films like 1987’s Blind Date. However, 1988’s Die Hard made him a big-screen attraction. The action film about John McClane trapped in a skyscraper with his wife and terrorists was a huge hit.
It was a hot commodity, and 20th Century Fox agreed to pay Willis $5 million, an astronomical sum for that time. Actors like Michael J. Fox and Tom Cruise were only making around $3 million per film. Everyone’s salary went up after Willis signed the deal.
Not the First Choice
In the late ‘80s, Die Hard came out at a time when Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were the top earners at the box office for action films. It was no surprise that those two and many others were offered the role of John McClane before Willis.
In fact, Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, Charles Bronson, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Dean Anderson all passed on the part before Willis got the opportunity. He was so low on the list because he was known as a TV comedy actor.
John McClane Couldn’t Save Him
When Willis became a big star, Seagram hired him as the pitchman for their Golden Wine Cooler. He looked like a total dork as he sipped wine coolers on a porch singing with his friend into their bottles. Not even John McClane could make him look cool at that moment.
The campaign earned Willis $5-7 million over two years, but he chose not to renew his contract with the company when he stopped drinking in 1988. Seagram offered to pay him more money, but Willis felt uncomfortable advertising something he wouldn’t drink.
Too Close for Comfort
Willis performed all his own stunts in Die Hard, but it wasn’t always safe. The movie used blank bullets, but those can still hurt you even if they don’t kill you. Willis learned this the hard way in a scene where he shot a bad guy from under a table.
The gun was too close to Willis, and the sound of the blanks was so loud it caused him to lose two-thirds of the hearing in his left ear. He still has trouble hearing. However, Willis was willing to go the extra mile for the role.
Short-Lived Music Career
In the late ‘80s, Willis took a brief break from acting to pursue a career in music. He enjoyed moderate success as a recording artist, releasing the pop-blues album The Return of Bruno. It included the hit single “Respect Yourself” featuring The Pointer Sisters.
The song made it to number five on the US Billboard Hot 100. It might have been a cover, but Willis had the vocals to back it up. He released it under his alter ego, Bruno, and starred in a mockumentary to promote the LP.
Anything for Newman
In contrast to what most actors would do, Willis used his success as an action hero to work with actors and directors he looked up to. He even took small parts to work with the big names. Willis was only on screen for 22 minutes in 1994’s Pulp Fiction.
In 1995’s Nobody’s Fool, Willis passed on his normal $15 million fee to earn $1,400 a week because he got to work with Paul Newman. Willis felt so strongly that it was Newman’s film, that he had his name removed from the production notes and the press kit.
Bruno the Kid
Willis was used to being in front of the camera, but in 1996, he got to go behind the microphone. He lent his voice to Bruno the Kid, an animated series about an 11-year-old spy named Bruno who convinces his handlers that he’s an adult.
Bruno was one of Willis’s nicknames growing up and the name of his musical alter ego. Unfortunately, the series only lasted for one season. The idea behind the show was good, but not enough people watched it. Willis had better opportunities, though.
He Never Finished This Movie
In 1997, Willis started filming Broadway Brawler, a rom-com about a washed-up hockey player falling in love. But 20 days into production, Willis used his power as a producer to fire director Lee Grant, the cinematographer, producer, and wardrobe designer. They had major creative differences.
Willis replaced the director with Dennis Dugan, but the problems continued. Rather than waste more money, studio Cinergi shut it down. Cinergi’s parent company, Disney, agreed to absorb the production costs if Willis would star in three movies: Armageddon, The Sixth Sense, and The Kid.
The Irony of It All
Willis had turned down the lead role in Ghost because he didn’t think people would want to watch a movie about someone who is already dead. However, he went on to star in The Sixth Sense. In his defense, the audience didn’t know he was dead until the end.
Willis later admitted that he was wrong for turning down Ghost. It ended up going to Patrick Swayze, and it was a hit. He would have gotten to star alongside his then-wife, Demi Moore. It might have been hard to work together.
Hudson Hawk Was Based on a Song
After Die Hard, Willis proved he could be an action star. In 1991, he starred in Hudson Hawk, a critical and commercial failure about a jewel thief hired to steal from the Vatican. The movie was based on a song written by Robert Kraft a decade earlier.
Kraft shared the song with Willis when he was still a bartender. The two added to the story over the years, and it eventually landed in the hands of screenwriters Stephen De Souza and Daniel Waters. Sadly, it wasn’t what they imagined.
The Biggest Action Star
Die Hard launched Willis’s movie career, but films like Armageddon and The Fifth Element turned him into one of the biggest action stars. After Armageddon, Willis was offered the chance to appear in the video game Apocalypse for PlayStation as a sidekick.
The idea was thrown out, and Willis got the leading role and a character modeled after him. He provided the voice, witty one-liners, and it made him the first star to have their own video game that wasn’t based on a preexisting movie.
Hollywood’s “It” Couple
Willis met his first wife, Demi Moore, in 1987. They quickly rushed to get married a few months after their first encounter. Little Richard ordained their wedding in Las Vegas, and they became Hollywood’s hottest couple. Everywhere they went, the paparazzi followed.
He was coming off the success of Die Hard, and Moore was blowing up as she transitioned into being a serious actress. They were the most talked about couple on every red carpet, and during their 13 years together, Willis and Moore had three daughters.
An Unfortunate End
While the couple seemed happy together, Willis and Moore announced their shocking separation in November 2000. Their divorce was finalized a year later. Willis later admitted that he felt like a failure as a father and husband because they couldn’t make it work.
Willis credited Will Smith for helping him cope with the divorce. Although he and Moore are no longer married, the two have maintained a close friendship over the years. Willis even attended Moore’s wedding to Ashton Kutcher. They also stayed close for their children.
Stars Unite at Planet Hollywood
Not only is Willis a talented actor and short-lived singer, but he is also a restauranteur. Sometimes it can be hard to break into the restaurant business, but anything is possible when four movie stars come together. In 1991, Willis, Moore, Schwarzenegger, and Stallone opened Planet Hollywood.
The first location was in New York City, and the chain has grown with locations across the country. Willis and his fellow endorsing actors were paid for appearances through an employee stock ownership plan. Other celebrities like Cindy Crawford and Wesley Snipes have since endorsed it too.
Not Made for the WWE
He might be an action star, but we could never picture Willis going into the WWE. However, when he was filming a movie in Hawaii, he decided to check out the match. Willis ran into The Rock, who dared him to hit Chris Jericho.
Instead of backing down from the challenge, Willis got in the ring with the WWE star and head-butted him in the chest. According to Jericho, he was expecting a slap to the face or a punch, but Willis gave him a solid attack. It was weaker than Jericho expected.
Two Time Winner
Willis has been nominated and won many awards throughout his career, including two Emmys. In 1987, he took home the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a drama series for Moonlighting. He also won a Golden Globe for the show.
Then, in 2000, Willis won another Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a comedy series for Friends. He played Rachel’s stone-cold boyfriend, who turned into a weepy mess when she asked him to open up about his feelings. He definitely deserved the award. But his success hasn’t translated to the big screen.
Snubbed by the Academy
Unfortunately, Willis has never been nominated for an Academy Award. He has never even been nominated. He is known more for his action movies, but Willis has also appeared in several Academy Award-nominated films, including Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense, and 12 Monkeys.
Luckily, his lack of Oscars doesn’t seem to worry him. Willis told GQ, “I don’t think about it too much. It just always has seemed whimsical to me to think about it. You don’t get an Oscar for comedy, and you don’t get it for shooting people.”
From Guest to Host
As a celebrity, Willis is used to appearing on talk shows to promote his upcoming projects. In 2003, he was set to be a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman. Unfortunately, Letterman had a nasty eye infection and couldn’t make it to film the episode.
Instead of canceling the episode, the producers asked Willis to be a guest host. It might have been last minute, but he did a wonderful job. He was a natural behind the Late Show desk. Letterman should have been worried that Willis would take his hosting job.
Another Shot at Love
After his divorce from Moore, Willis quietly started dating Baywatch star Brooke Burns. The couple fell quickly for one another, and many people thought there would be wedding bells in their future. They walked all the red carpets together, and he introduced her to his children.
Unfortunately, Willis and Burns went their separate ways after only nine months together. It was a shock to most, but they blamed their break up on distance. A friend of theirs said it was hard to have a relationship 3,000 miles apart.
While working out at a mutual friend’s gym, Willis met model and actress Emma Heming. The couple started dating in 2007 and tied the knot two years later in Turks and Caicos. A week later, the couple had a legal ceremony in Beverly Hills.
Willis’s children supported their father’s marriage and welcomed Heming into the family with open arms. In 2012, Willis and Heming welcomed their daughter Mabel Ray. They also had Evelyn Penn in 2014. The pair recently celebrated 13 years of marriage, and they seem happy.
They Spent Some Time Apart
Although they are in a loving relationship, Willis and Heming spent some time apart in 2020. They got stuck in different places when the country went into lockdown. Instead of being with his wife, Willis was locked down with his ex-wife, Moore, and their kids.
Meanwhile, Heming and their two daughters were stuck in Los Angeles. It might have seemed like a strange situation, but Heming was supportive of her husband. She later joined Willis with their daughters at Moore’s Idaho home. They were glad to be reunited as a family.
His Name in Lights
In 2015, Willis made his big Broadway debut in William Goldman’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Misery. He starred opposite Laurie Metcalf at the Broadhurst Theatre. Unfortunately, his debut didn’t go as well as he had hoped because the critics weren’t impressed.
The critics called Willis’s performance “vacant” and “inert.” One reviewer said the show had a “drowsy room temperature” feeling throughout the show. The New York Times critic said, “You’re more likely to experience chills sitting in a tepid bath at home.” That’s got to hurt.
He Started Drinking Again
In the late ‘80s, Willis decided to stop drinking because he didn’t want to “run himself off the pier of life with alcohol, drinking vodka out of the bottle every day.” He remained sober until 2013, but Willis didn’t start drinking as he had back in the day.
Today, Willis has a glass of wine with dinner. He is more in control than he was when he stopped drinking. In 2019, he got a little too drunk during a night out and flipped off the paparazzi as he got in his car.
Since 2014, Willis has starred in three movies that received a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. These included Precious Cargo, Hard Kill, and Acts of Violence. The critics might not have been fans, but the audience ratings were a bit more generous.
An actor’s movies can’t all be blockbuster hits, but it must hurt to receive the lowest possible rating from the critics. Despite getting poor ratings, Willis hasn’t let that slow his career down. He has many projects in the works and isn’t retiring.
Not Just a Movie Star
Willis hasn’t stepped behind the camera to sit in the director’s chair, but he does have some writing credits under his belt. For the film Hudson Hawk, he was given a “Story By” credit because he helped with the idea of the overall script.
He was part of the process because Willis helped expand the story. As we mentioned before, Hudson Hawk was based on a Robert Kraft song. Over the years, Willis and Kraft added characters and storylines to the idea behind the song and gave it to two screenwriters.
A Memorial Day to Forget
Memorial Day 1987 is a holiday Willis would prefer to wipe from his memory. The day started off normal, and Willis threw a party at his house. However, things got out of hand when their neighbors called the police to complain about the noise.
When the cops showed up, Willis got arrested for assaulting a police officer who tried to break up the party. Luckily, the charges were dropped after Willis said he would apologize to all his neighbors. He didn’t want to be in any real trouble.
Never Backing Down
Willis never backs down from a bet, challenge, or dare. When Willis starred in The Whole Nine Yards with Matthew Perry, the two bet about what would happen during its opening weekend. Willis thought it would flop, and Perry thought it would be number one.
The movie debuted at number one at the box office, and Willis lost the bet. As the winner, Perry made Willis guest star on Friends. It’s a good thing Willis lost because his performance earned him an Emmy award. The fans were also excited to see him.
Not for Free
While his appearance on Friends was due to losing a bet, Willis still got paid for his few episodes. He was already a big star, so we can imagine that the show paid him pretty well. Instead of keeping the money for himself, Willis did something better.
Willis took the money he earned from Friends and donated his paycheck to charity. He has always been a big supporter of children in foster care and donated the money to an organization that helps kids in the system. He’s a class act.
How Tall Is Bruce Willis?
In 2010, Willis had a small role in The Expendables with Stallone and Schwarzenegger. The actor didn’t look small next to the two macho action men because Willis is six feet tall. He might not be the most buff action actor, but he has the height.
In 2012, Willis returned for an extended role in The Expendables 2. He liked working with Stallone and Schwarzenegger because they had become friends over the years and were in business together for Planet Hollywood. It was a fun project to work on.
Supporting the Scouts
Girl Scout cookie season is always exciting because they aste amazing. Willis must be a fan because he once bought 12,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies. However, it wasn’t because he was very hungry and needed to please his sweet tooth.
Willis’s daughter and niece inspired him to buy so many of the snacks to send to American servicemen and women overseas. Willis later visited the troops in Iraq in 2003 as part of a USO tour. He sang to the troops with his band, The Accelerations.
How Much Is Bruce Willis Worth?
As of 2022, Willis is worth an estimated $250 million. As an actor, producer, and “musician,” Willis has consistently been one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood. Since Die Hard, he has earned millions for each of his films. He made $100 million for The Sixth Sense.
Willis has also had several endorsement deals and is an investor in Planet Hollywood. In 2009, he signed a contract to become the international face of Belvedere vodka in exchange for 3.3 percent ownership of the company. Willis can retire and live an easy life.
Willis has a total of five daughters. Rumer, Scout, and Tallulah were from his marriage with Moore. All three of them followed in their father’s footsteps and became actresses. Willis’s other two daughters, Evelyn and Mabel, are too young to be in the business.
Mabel is about to turn ten, and Evelyn will be eight. Willis’s youngest daughters with Heming mostly stay out of the spotlight, unlike their older half-sisters. They have appeared on their mom’s social media, but Willis wants to keep their lives private while they are young.
Although Willis was in the first and second installments of The Expendables, he did not return for the third film. Willis chose not to accept the offer to return for the third film because of his own greed. He was offered $3 million for four days of shooting.
Willis wanted $4 million, but the producers said no. The initial offer was fairly generous, but he wanted one million for each day of filming. Stallone rejected Willis’s counter-offer and replaced the actor with Harrison Ford. Willis should have taken the $3 million.
Swearing Off Action Films
After the events of 9/11, Willis swore off making action films in support of the troops being deployed to the Middle East. While it seemed like a nice gesture to stand in solidarity with those fighting for the country, his promise didn’t last long.
It didn’t take long for Willis to get back in the action movie game. In 2004, he made a cameo in Ocean’s Twelve. In the mid-2000s, Willis was back to making action films like Hostage in 2005 and Live Free or Die Hard in 2007.
Stepping Away From the Screen
In 2021, the Golden Raspberry Awards created a one-off “Worst Bruce Willis Performance in a 2021 Movie” award for roles in eight films released that year. Despite the setback, Willis had many movies in the works, but he recently made a major announcement.
In March 2022, Willis and his family announced that he would be retiring from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia. The condition can affect a person’s ability to speak, write, and understand both written and verbal language. It typically occurs after a stroke or head injury. Willis will be missed in the acting world.