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Bruce Willis is “stepping away” from his acting career after being diagnosed with aphasia, which leads to the loss of ability to understand or express speech, his family said in a statement posted to social media.
“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,” read the statement. “As a result of this and with much consideration, Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him.”
The 67-year-old film star is best known for playing John McClane in the iconic Die Hard franchise. The original 1988 film made Willis — who was then mainly known as a comedic TV actor, specifically for the series Moonlighting (1985-89), for which he won an Emmy in 1987 — a full-fledged movie star. (He went on to land another Emmy in 2000 for a guest role on Friends.)
“I’m very saddened by this news,” Larry Gordon, producer of Die Hard and its 1990 sequel, told The Hollywood Reporter. “Bruce is a good friend and was fantastic to work with on Die Hard 1 and 2. They couldn’t be harder films for an actor to make and survive. He is the consummate pro and a gutsy guy.”
Willis has starred in such blockbusters as The Fifth Element (1997), Armageddon (1998) and The Sixth Sense (1999). Willis’ other classics include The Last Boy Scout (1991), Death Becomes Her (1992) Pulp Fiction (1994) and 12 Monkeys (1995). In recent years, Willis largely starred in lower-budget films, though he did appear in Glass (2019), the high-profile sequel to Unbreakable (2000) from director M. Night Shyamalan, who tweeted he was sending “love and respect to my big brother Bruce Willis.” In 2018, the actor was on the hot seat for The Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis. At the hilarious event, he took jabs as well as he gave them.
Haley Joel Osment, who had his breakthrough role opposite Willis in The Sixth Sense, posted a statement to social media about Willis, writing in part, “I am so grateful for what I got to witness firsthand, and for the enormous body of work he built for us to enjoy for years and years to come.”
“Bruce and I have worked on over 20 films together. He is a terrific actor and legendary action star, an incredible father, and a close friend,” producer Randall Emmett told THR. “I fully support Bruce and his family during this challenging time and admire him for his courage in battling this incredibly difficult medical condition. Bruce will always be part of our family.” The pair collaborated on such films as Midnight in the Switchgrass, Survive the Night, Hard Kill, Extraction, Fortress and Out of Death.
“This is a really challenging time for our family, and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support,” the Willis family’s statement continued. “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. As Bruce always says, ‘Live it up’ and together we plan to do just that. Love, Emma, Demi, Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Mabel, & Evelyn.”
A year ago, director James Cullen Bressack shot the Willis films Survive the Game and Fortress back-to-back in Puerto Rico. He recalls the actor being in good spirits, and having a tradition of crumpling up pages once they filmed a scene and shooting them like basketballs into a trash can. Recalls the filmmaker to THR: “He and I just enjoyed doing that. Both of us competing to see who could make more baskets. He laughed a lot. I laughed a lot. It was a lot of fun.” In an Instagram post, Bressack paid tribute to Willis, writing, “I’m blessed to have had the chance to work with him.”
Willis was immediately trending on social media as the news broke, as fans were sharing their disbelief and sadness over the development.
Aaron Couch and Kim Masters contributed to this report.
March 31, 2:39 p.m. This story has been updated with Haley Joel Osment’s statement.
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