Bruce Willis’ Wife Gave a Heartbreaking Update about His Dementia

bruce willis and emma willis stand together and smile for photos while each looking away from the camera, he wears a black suit jacket with a white pocket square and unbuttoned light blue shirt, she wears a black suit jacket that is buttoned
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Bruce Willis News: “Hard to Know” If the Actor Is Aware of His Disease

It’s “hard to know” if Bruce Willis is aware of his frontotemporal dementia, his wife Emma Heming Willis shared during a September 25 interview on the Today show. The 68-year-old movie star retired from acting in 2022 after being diagnosed with aphasia, which later progressed to the rare form of dementia. Symptoms of the disorder can include drastic personality changes, emotionally distant behavior, and the loss of ability to use language properly. However, Emma called the illness a blessing as well as a curse because of how much her husband has taught the family, including their young daughters, about love, patience, and resilience. “Listen, I think my kids would be great no matter what, and this is not what I would want for them,” she said. “But really, like I said, it’s teaching them so much—how to care and love—and it’s really a beautiful thing amongst the sadness.”

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Who Is Bruce Willis?

Bruce Willis’ acting career launched when he played detective David Addison on the 1980s TV hit Moonlighting. In 1988, he became a bona fide movie star with the success of the action blockbuster Die Hard. Appearances in subsequent hits such as Pulp Fiction and The Sixth Sense, as well as his 13-year marriage to actor Demi Moore, ensured that Willis remained one of the most well-known actors of his generation. His more recent movies include The Expendables, Red, and Moonrise Kingdom. In March 2022, Willis retired from acting following his diagnosis of aphasia that has since progressed to frontotemporal dementia.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Walter Bruce Willis
BORN: March 19, 1955
BIRTHPLACE: Idar-Oberstein, Germany
SPOUSES: Demi Moore (1987-2000) and Emma Heming Willis (2009-present)
CHILDREN: Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Mabel, and Evelyn

Early Life

Walter Bruce Willis was born on March 19, 1955, in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany, where his father was stationed in the U.S. military at the time. Willis is the oldest of David and Marlene Willis’ four children, a group that includes three sons and a daughter. In 1957, following his father’s discharge from the military, Willis moved with his family to Carney’s Point, New Jersey.

There, the seeds for the tough, blue-collar edge that came to define so many of Willis’ roles were planted as he watched his father feed the family through work as a welder and later a factory employee.

By all accounts, Willis, nicknamed “Bruno” by his friends, was a popular kid with a good sense of humor who in high school was elected student council president. He liked pranks and wasn’t immune from getting into occasional trouble. Coupled with this, however, was a slightly softer side that centered on his interest in the theater and the stage. It was born oddly enough out of the realization that a stutter, which plagued his speech as a youngster, immediately went away as soon as he began performing in front of large groups.

Early Career

After graduating from high school, Willis followed in his father’s footsteps and found work with his hands, first in a chemical factory and then as a security guard, before returning to the classroom as a drama student at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Willis’ interest in acting didn’t wane, but eager to strike out on his own, he quit school after his sophomore year and moved to New York City to try and make it as a working actor.

For Willis, whose acting heroes include Robert De Niro, Gary Cooper, Steve McQueen, and John Wayne, work didn’t come easy. He waited tables, tended bar, and when he had the chance, auditioned for roles. His first real break of any kind came in 1977 when he debuted in the off-Broadway play Heaven and Earth. More stage work followed, but in 1980, Willis jumped over to film when he scored a bit role in the Frank Sinatra movie The First Deadly Sin. Two years later, he landed another minor part in The Verdict, starring Paul Newman. There was some exposure on the television screen, too, with occasional appearances on episodes of Hart to Hart and Miami Vice.

Movies and TV Shows

In 1984, after replacing Ed Harris in the off-Broadway hit Fool for Love, Willis headed west to Hollywood to audition for the Madonna vehicle Desperately Seeking Susan. Willis didn’t get the part, but in a decision that would prove to be incredibly smart, he stuck around an extra day in order to audition for a new romantic TV comedy called Moonlighting, set to debut the following March.


As the story goes, Willis dressed in combat fatigues and, donning a punk haircut, read for the part of wisecracking private investigator David Addison. He wowed the TV executives with his gregariousness and charming attitude to beat out some 3,000 other actors.

Co-starring Cybill Shepherd, Moonlighting revolved around the crime-solving exploits of Maddie Hayes (Shepherd) and Addison of the Blue Moon Detective Agency. The show, which aired until May 1989, was a huge hit for ABC and an even bigger launching pad for Willis. “Women find him appealing, and guys have a fantasy that they could be like him,” ABC talent vice president Gary Pudney told People magazine. “That’s why he’s become such a valuable commodity to us so quickly.”

Blind Date

In 1987, Willis returned to film when he was matched with Kim Basinger in the comedy Blind Date.

That same year, Willis married fellow actor Demi Moore. An avid blues fan and harmonica player, Willis also stepped into the music studio for Motown Records to record Return to Bruno, a collection of bluesy soul songs that produced a modest sales return.

Die Hard

In the summer of 1988, Die Hard, an action-packed flick that cast Willis as muscle-pumping hero John McClane, hit movie screens across the country with a bang. Even before its release, the movie had managed to catch some notice, in part because both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger had turned down the McClane role. When movie executives settled on Willis, in part because he brought a level of warmth and humor to the character, they agreed to pay him $5 million, a huge sum for an actor many still considered a relative Hollywood novice.

The viewing public didn’t care. With Willis doing his own stunts and whipping out memorable one-liners, Die Hard garnered an impressive $81 million at the domestic box office and later spawned four sequels. It was just the start for Willis, who in the ensuing decades starred in movies that have grossed more than $3 billion in ticket sales.

A year after Die Hard, Willis was at the wheel of another hit and back in a full-on comedic role as the voice of Mikey, the ever-observant baby, in Look Who’s Talking. His role as the English tabloid journalist in Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) drew mixed reviews, and in 1991, the action movie Hudson Hawk, a vanity project of sorts that Willis wrote and starred in, proved to be a box-office failure. Other, less memorable projects soon followed.

Pulp Fiction, Armageddon, and The Sixth Sense

In 1994, Willis experienced a comeback of sorts when he took on the role of weathered boxer Butch Coolidge in the Quentin Tarantino–directed smash hit Pulp Fiction. Perhaps sensing the movie was going to do well, Willis agreed to take a modest salary ($1,685 per week) in return for a share of the profits. Pulp Fiction went on to gross more than $100 million.

From there, a steady run of hits followed, from a third installment of the Die Hard series (Die Hard: With a Vengeance) in 1995 to the 1998 sci-fi action thriller Armageddon. In 1999, Willis came through with one of his more memorable roles as child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe in the M. Night Shyamalan film The Sixth Sense, and he reteamed with Shyamalan the following year for the superhero flick Unbreakable. He also remained busy with more comedy (2000’s The Whole Nine Yards) and a bevy of television appearances (Ally McBeal, Mad About You, and Friends).

Sin City, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Expendables

Willis showed no signs of slowing down, demonstrating a range that mixed muscular intimidation (Sin City and Red), sharp comedic timing (The Whole Ten Yards), and a softer touch (Moonrise Kingdom) that few actors can claim.

In 2010, Willis starred with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and other action heroes in The Expendables. In 2012, he reunited with the movie’s cast to star in the sequel. Within just one week, the movie had climbed to the No. 1 spot at the box office, bringing in nearly $28.6 million. Also that year, he appeared in the sci-fi flick Looper as an older version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character.

Next, Willis reprised some of his earlier roles in A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), Red 2 (2013), and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014). Along with maintaining a full slate of screen work, the veteran actor made his Broadway debut in 2015 in a stage adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery.

Subsequent movies featured Willis back in tough-guy mode, among them Once Upon a Time in Venice (2017), Acts of Violence (2018), a remake of Death Wish (2018) and Reprisal (2018). That year, he was also the subject of a Comedy Central roast, with ex-wife Moore among the talent assembled to crack jokes at his expense.

The veteran actor remained busy over the next several years with more than 30 film and TV credits to his name, including voice work in The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019) and the Detective Knight action-thriller trilogy, in which he starred. His final movie, Assassin, released in March 2023.

Retirement and Health

In March 2022, Willis announced his retirement from acting, via a family statement on Instagram, after being diagnosed with aphasia. The neurological condition affects the ability to communicate, including speech and comprehension. In February 2023, Willis and his family announced his condition progressed to frontotemporal dementia. According to his family, the illness has impacted his cognitive abilities. Symptoms can include drastic personality changes, emotionally distant behavior, and the loss of ability to use language properly.

Willis’ wife, Emma Heming Willis, said it’s “hard to know” whether he is aware of his own illness in a September 2023 interview to raise awareness about the rare form of dementia. She also described the disease as both a blessing and a curse: “Honestly, he is the gift that keeps on giving. Love. Patience. Resilience... He’s teaching me and our whole family. For me to be out here doing this, this is not my comfort zone. This is the power of Bruce.”

Wife and Daughters

In 1987, Willis married actor Demi Moore. The couple, who divorced in 2000, have three children together: Rumer, born in 1988; Scout, born in 1991; and Tallulah, born in 1994. The exes shared custody of their three children and remained close. Willis even attended Moore’s wedding to Ashton Kutcher in 2005.

On March 21, 2009, Willis backtracked on his pledge never to marry again when he tied the knot with model-actor Emma Heming at the Turks and Caicos Islands. They then married again a few days later in a civil ceremony at Willis’ California home. Willis and Heming have two daughters: Mabel, born in 2012, and Evelyn, born in 2014.


  • Every day, I work at not taking this fame thing seriously. Fortunately, I have a great group of friends who help me do this.

  • I hate government. I’m apolitical. Write that down. I’m not a Republican.

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