Colleagues Were Questioning Bruce Willis’ Cognitive State Before His Diagnosis

A new report from the Los Angeles Times reveals that the 67-year-old actor’s health decline may have been affecting his work in recent years

The family of Bruce Willis announced Wednesday that he would be “stepping away” from acting due to a recent diagnosis of aphasia, a disorder that affects one’s ability to speak, write, and understand languages, according to John Hopkins Medicine. But a new report from the Los Angeles Times suggests that the Die Hard star’s condition may have been affecting his film performances for several years preceding the announcement.

Several sources who worked with the 67-year-old actor on film sets in recent years told the Times that Willis struggled with remembering his lines, which were fed to him through an earpiece. Others questioned whether Willis was aware of his surroundings on set, where he was often paid $2 million for two days of work, and most of his action scenes—particularly those that involved choreographed gunfire—were shot using a body double.

In January, 2020, on the movie set of Hard Kill, actress and Vanderpump Rules reality star Lala Kent told the Times that Willis missed his cue twice to deliver a line before firing a weapon. Kent said she asked the film’s director, Matt Eskandari, to remind Willis to say his line before firing the gun—a line that was meant to serve as Kent’s cue to duck in the scene—but on the second take, the same thing happened.

“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,’” she said.

In recent years, fans began questioning online why Willis—who became a Hollywood superstar after appearing in the Die Hard franchise as well as Pulp Fiction, and The Fifth Element—had been cranking out so many low-budget films.

The Razzie Awards, which honors the worst films of the year, created an entire category just for Bruce Willis movies. After learning of Willis’ condition, the group behind the Razzies announced Thursday that it would rescind his award.

“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 organization said in a statement.

Mike Burns, who directed Willis’ 2021 action thriller Out of Death, told the Times that he was asked to significantly trim the actor’s scenes and lines, which needed to be kept “short and sweet.”

“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,” Burns said. He was tasked with compressing all of Willis’ scenes—roughly 25 pages of dialogue—into one day of filming.

Burns was reluctant to work with Willis again when he was offered an opportunity to direct him in The Wrong Place. When he called one of Willis’ associates to ask how he was doing, Burns was told that Willis was “a whole different person… way better than last year.”

“I took him at his word,” Burns said, but when filming began last October, “I didn’t think he was better; I thought he was worse.”

Burns added, “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.”

Jesse V. Johnson, who directed White Elephant and had worked with Willis decades prior when he was a stuntman, told the Times that Willis was “not the Bruce I remembered” when they were shooting the film in April of 2021.

Johnson said he brought his concerns to the actor’s team, who responded “that [Willis] was happy to be there, but that it would be best if we could finish shooting him by lunch and let him go early.”

While on set, Willis allegedly questioned where he was: “I know why you’re here, and I know why you’re here, but why am I here?” two crew members quoted Willis as saying.

Johnson was later offered two more Bruce Willis films, but ultimately declined.

“After our experience on White Elephant, it was decided as a team that we would not do another,” he said. “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.”

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