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Bruce Willis Fights for Partial Payment for Vodka Endorsement

FILM: Bruce Willis
Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Ejaf

The actor promoted Sobieski vodka, owned by French beverage firm Belvedere, which can't afford a $26 million payment triggered by a stock decline.

Bruce Willis is looking for at least partial payment for a three-year-old endorsement deal for the U.S. with the Sobieski vodka brand of indebted French liquor firm Belvedere, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Representatives for Willis were scheduled to attend a meet in Paris on Tuesday with creditors of Belvedere to discuss how to restructure the company's debt of around $977 million, according to the paper. The company is different from Belvedere Vodka, which is part of the Moët Hennessy group and has no affiliation with Willis.

Willis got a 2.6 percent stake in the beverage company as part of an agreement to appear in ads for the Sobieski brand in the U.S., it said. But he was promised €20 million ($26.1 million) if that stake's value fell below an undisclosed threshold. The company said it can't afford that payment.

A court-appointed administrator of Belvedere told the Journal that Willis is likely to lose most of his stake as creditors are expected to win control of most of the firm, but he may recover part of the promised payment. Under a proposed arrangement, Willis has the choice of receiving a third of the $26,1 million payment right away or spread the payment of the amount over seven years.

A lawyer for the actor didn't comment.

Willis began endorsing Sobieski in 2009 via dozens of tongue-in-cheek TV commercials, promotional parties and newspaper ads.

Belvedere told the Journal that Sobieski sales in the U.S. jumped from 70,000 cases in 2008 to 1 million in 2010. "He has done a huge job," Belvedere CEO Krzysztof Trylinski said. "To get such a result, you can either spend in marketing for 35 years or hire a star: It is much faster and eventually cheaper."

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai