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Bruce Willis Has Aphasia and Is ‘Stepping Away’ From His Career

The news of his diagnosis, initially announced by his ex-wife, Demi Moore, prompted an outpouring of support and appreciation for Willis from fans, stars and other notable figures.

Bruce Willis, the prolific action-movie star, has been diagnosed with aphasia — a disorder that affects the brain’s language center and a person’s ability to understand or express speech — and will step away from acting, his ex-wife, Demi Moore, announced in an Instagram post on Wednesday.

“To Bruce’s amazing supporters, as a family we wanted to share that our beloved Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities,” Moore’s post reads. “As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him.”

“We are moving through this as a strong family unit, and wanted to bring his fans in because we know how much he means to you, as you do to him,” it continued. “As Bruce always says, ‘Live it up,’ and together we plan to do just that.”

The post is signed “Emma, Demi, Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Mabel & Evelyn” — referring to Emma Heming Willis, Willis’s wife, and his children. Moore is the mother of Rumer, Scout and Tallulah, and Heming Willis is mother to Mabel and Evelyn.

The post was accompanied by a comical photo of a younger, smirking Willis wearing a bathrobe, sunglasses, a gold chain with a cross, and a towel around his head.

His wife, and Rumer, Scout and Tallulah all posted the same message and image on their Instagram pages.

Representatives for Willis did not respond to a request for comment.

Willis, who turned 67 this month, is most famous for his role as the rough-around-the-edges, yet clever, New York City cop John McClane in the highly successful “Die Hard” movie series, made up of five films from 1988 to 2013.

He has also starred in critically acclaimed films like “Pulp Fiction” (1994), “The Sixth Sense” (1999) and “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012).

M. Night Shyamalan, the director of “The Sixth Sense,” has said that it was Willis’s admirably level performance in “Die Hard” that showed him that Willis could pull off the subdued child psychiatrist Malcolm Crowe in his horror-thriller, which would go on to be nominated for six Oscars, including best picture. And when Shyamalan wrote the screenplay for 2000’s “Unbreakable,” he said he did so with Willis in mind.

In her New York Times review of “Pulp Fiction,” Janet Maslin said that Willis and his co-stars John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson “may all sound like known quantities, but none of them have ever had quite the opportunities this material offers.” Willis “displays a tough, agile energy when placed in the most mind-boggling situation,” she wrote.

In 1997, during the last days of filming the action-thriller “Mercury Rising,” Willis told The New York Times that he was, in a way, surprised to have found success on the big screen. “When I was coming up, there were guys like Robert Redford and Paul Newman and Warren Beatty — those were movie stars,” he said. “It all got handed to me pretty quickly.” Just days later, he would begin working on the highest-grossing film of 1998, “Armageddon,” from the director Michael Bay.

In 2013, when asked by GQ magazine to complete the sentence: “If I live long enough, I –,” Willis said: “should approach a bigger task than I approach now.”

When asked if he has a motto, he said: “‘Live and let live’ is the closest I have. It works for pretty much everything. It has comic aspects to it and it has the real-deal aspects to it.”

On Wednesday, there was an outpouring of appreciation for Willis and support for his family on social media from fans, stars and other notable figures.

In response to Rumer Willis’s Instagram post, Sarah Paulson, who worked with Bruce Willis in “Glass,” Shyamalan’s 2019 sci-fi thriller, said: “He was such an incredible acting partner to me, and is the loveliest, most gentle & hilarious man. He reigns supreme in my book.” (In her Times review of “Glass,” Manohla Dargis wrote, “[Samuel L.] Jackson and especially Willis remind you again of how fine they can be when asked for more than booming shtick and smirk.”)

In response to Moore’s Instagram post, Jamie Lee Curtis wrote: “Grace and guts! Love to you all!”; and Rita Wilson wrote: “My heart goes out to Bruce, and all of the family. So thankful you shared this with us. Keeping you all in our prayers.”

On Twitter, Gabrielle Giffords, a gun control advocate and former congresswoman, wrote: “I’m thinking of Bruce Willis and his family today. Aphasia makes it hard for me to find the right words. It can be lonely and isolating.”

The actor Seth Green tweeted, “I have so much love for Bruce Willis, and am grateful for every character he’s given us.”

And the actor-director Kevin Smith wrote, “Long before any of the ‘Cop Out’ stuff, I was a big Bruce Willis fan — so this is really heartbreaking to read,” referring to his 2010 movie that Willis starred in. “He loved to act and sing and the loss of that has to be devastating for him,” Smith said. He said he felt badly about his “petty complaints from 2010.” In 2011, on the Marc Maron podcast, Smith had complained openly about working with Willis, saying that working with the action star was “soul crushing.”

Thought of primarily as a movie star, Willis has received more accolades for his work on television: For his role as the private detective David Addison (played opposite Cybill Shepherd) in “Moonlighting” — an ABC comedy-drama-romance that ran from 1985 to 1989 — he earned three Golden Globe nominations, winning one, and two lead actor Emmy nominations, winning one.

In a 1985 Times review of “Moonlighting,” John J. O’Connor wrote of Willis: “In repose, the actor is not your average leading-man type. He could easily be mistaken for the quiet guy down the street.”

Confronted with Shepherd’s “flamboyantly insinuating” character, though, Willis “becomes almost debonair,” O’Connor wrote. “He appears to be constantly bemused, complete with twinkling eyes.”

In 2000, Willis also won a guest actor in a comedy Emmy for his role as Paul Stevens, the father of Ross Geller’s much-younger girlfriend, on the NBC series “Friends.”

Since 2015, his filmography has mostly been an onslaught of B-movie action productions, including “Breach,” in 2020, and “Fortress,” in 2021. According to his IMDb page, Willis currently has nearly 10 movies in postproduction.

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