As you’ve probably heard, Bruce Willis is retiring from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia, a cognitive language disorder that affects one’s ability to communicate. A statement published on Rumer Willis’s Instagram says this is “impacting his cognitive abilities”, and that as a result, Willis is “stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him”.
This is obviously very sad news and dealing with cognitive decline in a loved one is never easy. There has been a lot of speculation about Willis over the years, especially recently, that makes me wonder if the whispers were reaching a not-so-quiet volume that became impossible to ignore. A harrowing report in the LA Times paints a stark portrait of a person in decline, and there probably need to be some tough questions asked of Willis’s agent, manager, the producers who hired him, et cetera, about who knew what when and if a line was crossed into exploitation of Willis’s labor.
But rumors about Willis, specifically why he has been cranking out so many low-budget action movies, have circulated for years. Last year, Vulture ran an extensive profile of Randall Emmett, king of the “geezer teaser”, the producer behind many of the direct-to-VOD movies Willis has starred in. Though he is not the only actor to star in such films—Nicolas Cage recently admitted to doing them to pay off his debts—Willis features prominently in the profile, and has come to be the actor most affiliated with this kind of low-budget filmmaking. He starred in eight such films last year alone, and has another seven slated for this year, with three more films finished and as yet undated.
He's so easily identifiable with these movies, in fact, that Youtube film reviewers Red Letter Media did a lengthy breakdown of the “Bruce Willis fake movie factory” a couple months ago. After people shared the widely circulated rumor that Willis makes these movies to “cash out” before he is forced to retire, RLM followed up, though they noted that—at the time—this was all just a rumor and an assumption of why Bruce Willis, a huge movie star, would make so many crappy movies. But the rumors go back years, people first noticed him using an earwig to be fed lines when he starred in Misery on Broadway in 2015. At the time, his use of an earpiece was called a “safety net”, and it is important to note than no one knows when he was diagnosed and whether or not use of such devices then have anything to do with his diagnosis now.
But the rumors that Willis needed a little extra help on set have made the rounds for years now, as detailed in the LA Times article, and the idea that Willis was cashing in with the geezer teasers became prevailing wisdom based on nothing more than hearsay and no other explanation for him making so many of them (just like Cage was rumored to do them to get out of debt, which turned out to be true). And without ascribing too much power to Red Letter Media, or Vulture, or any one person or outlet, I can’t help but wonder if the cumulative affect of all the whispers and assumptions, which grew noticeably louder in the last couple years, played a role in this week’s announcement. Maybe not. Again, the LA Times piece outlines a pretty sad, dire situation working with Willis now. But as a professional gossip, it’s always interesting when the whispers coalesce around a confirmed story, and the whispers about Bruce Willis were getting ever louder and less subtle in recent weeks and months.
In related news, the Razzies decided to rescind Willis’s “Worst Performance” award, which they just gave him last Saturday. They created a category just for him, called “Worst Performance by Bruce Willis in a 2021 Movie”. Proving that the Razzies have always been trash, they also rescinded Shelly Duvall’s 1980 nomination for Worst Actress in The Shining, since more recent revelations have revealed Stanley Kubrick’s horrible treatment of her on set and the toll the role took on her.
Here is a list of support resources for those experiencing loved ones in cognitive decline.
Live long and gossip,