What You Never Knew About Bruce Willis

It's not hyperbole to describe Bruce Willis as one of the biggest movie stars of his generation. According to The Numbers, films in which he's starred have raked in more than $5 billion at the box office worldwide — while movies in which he's appeared as a supporting actor brought in another $1 billion.

Willis burst on the television scene in 1985 when he was cast opposite Cybill Shepherd in "Moonlighting." A TV hit, the rom-com series propelled Willis to the big screen, with Willis cementing his Hollywood status in 1987's "Blind Date," his first starring role in a film. The following year, he shifted genres to action-adventure with a little film called "Die Hard," delivering ticket sales of more than $141 million, spawning multiple sequels and catapulting Willis to Hollywood's A list. 

There have been many more movies since then, a decades-long streak that concluded when a health crisis forced his retirement from acting. While he's been a huge part of pop culture for well over three decades, there's much that even his most diehard fans may not know. To find out more, read on to discover what you never knew about Bruce Willis.

Acting helped him overcome stuttering

One thing that even the most ardent fans of Bruce Willis may not be aware is that he stuttered as a child. In a 2002 interview with Reader's Digest (via "Cases: Introducing Communication Disorders Across the Life Span"), he revealed, "I had a horrible stutter," adding that it developed when he was about 9 and continued until age 17. But something unexpected happened while he was performing in a high school production of "Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court." As soon as he got on stage, he recalled, his stuttering vanished; yet when he exited the stage, his stutter returned. "And I went, 'This is a miracle. I got to investigate this more,'" he said.

Reflecting on his childhood stutter with GQ, Willis recalled being fascinated with the realization that his stutter disappeared when he spoke words that he'd memorized. "That was the beginning of the gradual dispelling of my stutter," said Willis. However, he admitted, "I still stutter around some people now."

In 2016, Willis was honored by the American Institute for Stuttering. He said in his acceptance speech, "It means much more to me than you can know."

Actor John Goodman called him 'the best bartender in New York'

As Biography detailed, after graduating high school, Bruce Willis studied drama at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He never did graduate, deciding to bail in his sophomore year so he could head to New York City and try to make it as an actor. As is the case with most aspiring actors who head to the Big Apple in search of that big break, Willis tended bar to pay his rent.

According to reports, he was pretty darn good at it. Pal John Goodman, also an up-and-coming actor at the time, recalled when Willis used to tend bar at the long-since-shuttered Chelsea Central on the Upper West Side. "Bruce was the best bartender in New York," Goodman told the New York Post of the future star's prowess behind the bar. "He kept an entire joint entertained all night. He just kept the show going. He was amazing."

At the time, the Chelsea Central was a gathering place. "It was, at the time, where actors would go after the show if they were in town filming," Goodman explained, noting that his friendship with Willis extended back to 1979.

His Die Hard salary changed the game in Hollywood

When it comes to the movie for which Bruce Willis is most known, one film stands above all others: "Die Hard," the 1988 action classic that transformed him from wisecracking TV star to wisecracking big-screen action hero. While it now seems impossible to picture any other actor in the role of NYPD detective John McClane, Willis was far from the first actor intended for the movie. According to Screen Rant, Willis wasn't even on the studio's original wish list, which included such bankable stars as Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, and Burt Reynolds. "I think I was the 50th choice!" Willis joked to Entertainment Weekly

Willis also recalled being paid $5 million for the movie. He admitted, "It was an enormous amount of money at the time." And this money move reverberated throughout the industry. "The day after I signed the deal, every actor in Hollywood's salary went up to $5 million," he quipped. 

As Willis told The Guardian, a hefty salary wasn't the only thing he took from that star-making movie. "Due to an accident on the first 'Die Hard,' I suffer two-thirds partial hearing loss in my left ear and have a tendency to say, 'Whaaa?'" he admitted. 

He starred in his own video game — that had nothing to do with any of his movies

In addition to his many, many film and TV roles, Bruce Willis also starred in a project that was neither: "Apocalypse," a 1998 video game that allowed players to inhabit a digital version of Willis while they tried to head off the titular end of days by shooting at stuff. 

According to Aaron Cammarata, a designer who worked on "Apocalypse," the original concept was a "buddy game," in which players would control a character working alongside the digital Willis. However, he told Eurogamer, that concept was ultimately scrapped. He explained, "Apparently the team was concerned everyone would just want to play as Bruce Willis, not as his friend."

As Den of Geek recalled, it was a huge deal at the time for the game's maker, Activision, to land Willis — then one of Hollywood's biggest action heroes — for a video game. While the amount of money Willis was paid wasn't disclosed, it was rumored to be considerable. Actor Clancy Brown, discussing actors appearing in video games with The Hollywood Reporter, joked, "I think Bruce Willis did one and got a gazillion dollars."

He was a TV pitchman for wine coolers while battling a drinking problem

The TV success of "Moonlighting" led Bruce Willis to appear in TV commercials for Seagram's wine coolers in the late 1980s. In one such commercial, Willis is seen picking up a trio of gorgeous women in a nightclub, while another features him singing a rollicking blues number on the porch of a house, using a wine cooler bottle as a make-believe microphone. According to Yahoo!, Willis was reportedly paid somewhere between $5 million and $7 million for the commercials. 

His sideline as commercial pitchman for a booze brand eventually became a little awkward; whether he quit of his own accord or was fired, Willis ended his association with Seagram's after he was arrested for driving under the influence. Notably, he was later arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer when cops broke up an exceptionally raucous party he was hosting in 1987.

Years later, in 2013, Willis told GQ that, though he had gotten sober, he had since allowed himself a glass of wine every once in a while. "But once I realized that I wasn't gonna run myself off the pier of life with alcohol, drinking vodka out of the bottle every day ... I have wine now, mostly when I eat," he said.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

He released two albums and had a song reach No. 5 on the charts

It may seem bizarre, but there was a time when Bruce Willis not only ruled television and movies but also made a splash in the music industry. That came about thanks to the release of his 1987 solo album "The Return of Bruno." Featuring Willis (who seemingly adopted the persona of Bruno) singing and playing harmonica, the album featured cover versions of hits from the 1950s and 1960s. In a review of one of Willis' live performances from that time, The New York Times dismissed Willis as a "poseur," noting that watching him singing "Stand By Me" with special guest Ben E. King was "a textbook demonstration of the difference between minstrelsy and soul singing."

Willis released "Respect Yourself" as a single, along with an accompanying music video, and it did, well, respectably. According to Billboard, the single peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the album sold well enough to warrant a follow-up, the 1989 album "If It Don't Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger." By then, however, it'd seem the novelty had worn off, as Willis never released a third album.

His success spawned a bizarre Saturday morning cartoon

In 1996, Bruce Willis returned to his Bruno persona — not for more music, but for "Bruno the Kid," a downright bonkers Saturday morning cartoon in which Willis voiced a pint-sized version of himself.

According to a description in the "Encyclopedia of Television Shows," Bruno is a bespectacled 11-year-old who, despite his age, boasts "a large and prematurely balding head" — much like the actor who voiced him. As it turns out, Bruno is also a world-renowned secret agent, and he has somehow managed to trick his superiors at the top-secret spy organization Globe into believing he's an adult — not a little kid. According to IMDb, "Bruno the Kid" ran for 36 episodes, and it also spawned a standalone movie.

Not only did Willis voice the title character, but he also served as an executive producer. He even sang the show's theme song, imploring in a raspy voice, "When you've got a problem, call Bruno the Kid!"

Bruce Willis and Demi Moore were married by a rock 'n' roll legend

Bruce Willis and fellow actor Demi Moore tied the knot in 1987, as Us Weekly recalled, though they eventually divorced in 2000. "It's difficult for any couple to keep their marriage intact under the best of circumstances, and our marriage was under a huge magnifying glass all the time," he told Rolling Stone shortly after the spilt. Asked to pinpoint what exactly led to their split, Willis admitted he wasn't quite sure. "I haven't figured it out yet," he said. 

When the pair tied the knot, they hired a very special officiant to perform the ceremony: legendary rocker Little Richard. When the singer — whose real name was Richard Wayne Penniman — died in 2020, Moore took to Instagram to share a photo from their wedding, along with a brief tribute. "Bruce and I were so lucky and honored to have him officiate our wedding back in 1987 — thankful for the memories," she wrote in the caption. 

As Far Out reminded fans, Little Richard performed other celebrity weddings, officiating the ceremonies of Cyndi Lauper and David Thornton, Tom Petty and Dana York, and E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt and first wife Maureen.

He put a $1 million bounty on Saddam Hussein

Bruce Willis was no fan of Saddam Hussein, which became abundantly clear when he was performing for American troops stationed in Iraq back in 2003. As People reported, he offered a $1 million reward for the capture of the Iraqi dictator. He also implied that he was ready to deliver some justice with his own bare hands. "If you catch him, just give me four seconds with Saddam Hussein," Willis told the soldiers in the audience.

Offering one of his many millions as a bounty on Saddam Hussein was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to his patriotism. As he revealed in an interview with the Daily Mail, at one point, he considered enlisting in the military. "I thought about signing up but my friends told me I was too old," he said. "I called the White House, called President Bush and asked what I could do." Unfortunately, there were no exceptions, even from the president, given that Willis was 47 at the time and the upper age limit for new recruits was 34.

He agreed to star in The Sixth Sense to avoid litigation with Disney

"The Sixth Sense" was a huge hit for Bruce Willis, a box-office blockbuster that brought in more than $672 million worldwide. Interestingly, had it not been for a different movie entirely, Willis may never have signed on. 

As the Los Angeles Times reported in 1997, it all began when Willis was shooting a film for Disney called "Broadway Brawler." Willis clashed with the director — seriously enough for production to be shut down and the movie scrapped after 20 days of filming. That left the studio $17 million in the hole with nothing to show for it. 

According to Deadline, producer Joe Roth came up with an innovative solution to defuse the situation by having Willis agree to star in three movies for Disney, for which he'd be paid far less upfront than the $20 million per movie he was asking at the time (enough to offset the $17 million wasted on "Broadway Brawler"), but would presumably earn money on the back end if the films were successful. Those films were "Armageddon," "The Sixth Sense," and "The Kid," which raked in a combined $1.3 billion at the box office. 

He really didn't get along with director Kevin Smith

Bruce Willis didn't see eye to eye with the director of the never-made "Broadway Brawler," but that wasn't the only time he reportedly butted heads with a director. Such was the case when he starred opposite comedian Tracy Morgan in the 2010 comedy "Cop Out." While Willis never addressed the issue publicly, the film's director, Kevin Smith, did.

During an interview with Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast (via Collider), Smith described working with Willis as "soul crushing." While he never mentioned Willis by name, he did tease, "Everyone knows who it is." Complaining about making the movie, he shared, "It was difficult. I've never been involved in a situation like that where, one component is not in the box at all. ... I had no f**king help from this dude whatsoever."

Smith did mention Willis by name at the film's wrap party, which Willis didn't attend. "I want to thank everyone who worked on the film, except for Bruce Willis ... who is a f**king d**k!" Smith reportedly told the cast and crew, according to a National Enquirer report (via /Film).

Years later, Smith offered Willis an apology. "I feel like an a**hole for my petty complaints from 2010," the director wrote on Twitter.

The heartwarming reason he once bought 12,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies

Back in 2002, Bruce Willis came up with an ingenious way to send a gift to American troops stationed in Iraq while also supporting the Girl Scouts of America. As the Deseret News reported, he purchased a whopping 12,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies from Girl Scout Troop 231 of Sun Valley, Idaho, of which his 8-year-old daughter, Tallulah, was a member. He then sent those tasty treats to the men and women who were serving overseas during Operation Enduring Freedom.

"The story is absolutely true," Willis' publicist, Paul Bloch, confirmed for the outlet. "His daughter came up with the idea, along with her two cousins, and the cookies were sent."

According to TV Guide, the actor's generous gesture set him back a whopping $36,000 — and that wasn't even counting how much he paid to have the cookies shipped to Iraq.

He's starred in more than a dozen movies with numbers in the title

Bruce Willis has starred in a lot of Hollywood movies over the years. According to IMDb, he's appeared in dozens since launching his acting career in the 1980s. Of those movies, an inordinate amount of them have a common denominator other than Willis being in them: They have a number in the title. A quick spin through his cinematic output over the past few decades offers a wealth of examples. 

These include sci-fi flicks "12 Monkeys" and "The Fifth Element," along with "The Sixth Sense," "The Whole Nine Yards," "16 Blocks," "Catch .44," "Between Two Ferns: The Movie," and "10 Minutes Gone."

While that's an impressive list, it doesn't include his numerous movie sequels, such as "Die Hard 2," "The Whole Ten Yards," "The Expendables 2," "RED 2," and "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part."

The sad reason behind his retirement announcement

A quick glance at Bruce Willis' IMDb credits indicates that he was particularly busy during 2020 and 2021, appearing in several movies released during 2021 and several to be released in 2022. In late March 2022, it appeared clear why he'd embarked on such a breakneck pace of moviemaking when his family, including ex-wife Demi Moore, issued a statement on Instagram that revealed he'd been experiencing some "health issues."  

The Instagram post noted that Willis had "recently been diagnosed with aphasia," a condition that, according to Mayo Clinic, can affect your communication skills and understanding of language. Willis' aphasia, the post revealed, had been "impacting his cognitive abilities." His family shared, "As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him."

The announcement was meant to let his fans know what was happening. "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," his family noted. Willis' loved ones signed off by sharing one of his favorite things to say: "Live it up." They promised that Willis, with their help, was planning "to do just that."