Bruce Willis Diagnosed With Frontotemporal Dementia
Bruce Willis remains supported by an all-star cast.
Almost a year since the actor’s family announced that he was stepping away from his prolific film career due to a diagnosis of aphasia, a condition that affects language comprehension and expression, they provided an unfortunate update on Feb. 16, sharing that the 67-year-old was suffering from frontotemporal dementia.
“While this is painful, it is a relief to finally have a clear diagnosis,” noted the Instagram post shared by his wife Emma Heming Willis, 44, ex-wife Demi Moore, 60, and grown daughters Rumer, 34, Scout, 31, and Tallulah Willis, 29. The sign-off: “Ladies of Willis/Moore.”
Still operating as a unit, still absorbing strength from each other as they care for their “beloved husband, father and friend.”
The hundred-plus movies Willis has been in since his star-making turn on the 1980s TV drama Moonlighting might suggest that he always lived to work, but the actor figured out long ago that off-camera was where the action is.
“My family and friends are the most significant part of my life, and no film script will ever change that,” he told Everything Zoomer in 2013.
“I feel very relaxed,” the Die Hard star also acknowledged. “I don’t have much to get upset about in life. I sometimes worry about my daughters but I try to tell them how to avoid the bad guys out there. Your kids need your love and attention and being able to devote myself to them is very fulfilling. As I get older, spending time with my daughters makes things much easier. You learn to put your ego aside.”
So if you were surprised to see Bruce, Demi and daughter Scout wearing matching striped pajamas and hunkering down together during the social-distancing era of 2020, almost 20 years after the actors finalized their divorce…
Well, maybe it was a little surprising, but it was hardly a shock.
“It’s kind of divine time to just hang out with them,” Scout shared on the Dopey podcast that April amid questions about how the arrangement, which included Tallulah and her then-boyfriend (later fiancé) Dillon Buss, came to be. “I’m very grateful to be with my family.”
As Scout explained, her dad’s wife, Emma, and their daughters Mabel, 10, and Evelyn, 8, were supposed to join them at Demi’s place in Sun Valley, Idaho, as well, but one of the little ones had injured her foot back in L.A. and Emma had to take her to the doctor. Then, as COVID-19 restrictions proliferated, “travel got crazy,” Scout said, “and my stepmom stayed in L.A. with my little sisters.”
But this very modern arrangement was pretty par for the course for Bruce and Demi, who’ve remained close through most of the highs and lows that life has thrown at them since they ceased being husband and wife, including this scary new chapter their family is facing all together.
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“This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support,” the family wrote in their March 30 post revealing Bruce’s battle with aphasia. “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”
Though the term “conscious uncoupling” wouldn’t enter the lexicon for quite awhile, that appeared to be what Bruce and Demi managed to pull off when they broke up in 1998 after more than 10 years of marriage.
In fact, Demi’s ability to remain friends with an ex resulted in her meeting Bruce in the first place back in August 1987, when she accompanied her former fiancé Emilio Estevez to the premiere of his movie Stakeout and was introduced to the Emmy-winning star of the hit drama Moonlighting.
Bruce was also recently out of a long relationship, but they were both instantly smitten.
“We went all in, right away—talking about how badly we both wanted to have kids, our own family,” Demi wrote of the early days of their courtship in her 2019 memoir Inside Out. And sure enough, during a trip to Las Vegas to watch a big boxing match, Bruce suggested they get married. Which they did, on Nov. 21, 1987, then had a wedding a month later—the first time Bruce’s parents had been in the same room since their divorce, Demi noted in her book.
It was her second marriage, the erstwhile Demi Guynes having been wed to singer Freddie Moore from 1981 to 1985.
Meanwhile, the St. Elmo’s Fire star got pregnant—on her and Willis’ wedding night at the Golden Nugget hotel, she wrote—and Rumer was born on her due date, Aug. 16, 1988. Scout arrived July 20, 1991, her imminent birth enshrined in pop culture history on the August 1991 cover of Vanity Fair, and Tallulah rounded out the family on Feb. 3, 1994.
Bruce told the Washington Post in 1988 that stories of his premarital bachelor exploits were “exaggerated,” but much was made of him settling down in Malibu with his new wife.
“There have been a lot of things written that Demi was the one who calmed me down, who made me do all this or else,” the actor said. “And that’s just not true.”
About he and Demi being on the rebound when they first met, he recalled, “She was even more hesitant about [getting together]. I guess part of it had to do with my reputation. Not that she had read anything specifically about me. Just the kind of buzz that I was, just in very general terms, this wild guy, which she has gone on record as saying that I never was around her. I never needed to be that guy around her. Never wanted to.”
But let it be known, he was head over heels.
“I’ve never experienced this kind of love before,” he told the Post. “She is so amazing to me. And underneath all this really passionate love, we’re really good friends. We’re really good friends. We’ve spent a lot of time working on being honest with each other. In past relationships, I was so much more concerned with putting on a good face. Looking good. I mean emotionally. You don’t want to let anybody see that scared little kid in your heart. She’s seen all that. She’s gone through it too. We just learned how to communicate on a level I never knew existed.”
And he was looking forward to becoming a father, guessing it would “improve the quality of my life, slow it down. I think it’ll get me a little more in touch with what’s real and what’s not real.”
Yes, and no.
Their respective careers blew up in the 1990s. Bruce made—among other things—two Die Hard sequels, The Last Boy Scout, Pulp Fiction, Nobody’s Fool, 12 Monkeys, The Fifth Element, Armageddon and The Sixth Sense. After starring in Ghost, A Few Good Men, Disclosure and Indecent Proposal, Demi was famously paid the then record sum for a female actor of $12.5 million for 1996’s Striptease, after which she got super-buff and shaved her head for 1997’s G.I. Jane. (You may have heard of it.)
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“I don’t know if any marriage could be harder than when both people do the exact same f–king thing, when they are, in the eyes of the world, big shots—celebrities, superstars, whatever you want to say,” Bruce told journalist David Sheff for Playboy in 1996. “We both do the same thing, both travel all the time. We both average 300 hours a year on planes. On the other hand, when I come home after a day at work, how many people are really going to understand what I’ve been through? She’s one of a few.”
While you could try to poke holes in their union anywhere along the way amid all that fame and inevitable tabloid scrutiny, Demi shared in her book that their marriage actually hit a major speed bump early on. When Bruce was about to leave for Europe to shoot Hudson Hawk in August 1990, she recalled, he said to her, “I don’t know if I want to be married.”
So “things were in a very precarious state” when he left, Demi wrote, and her first visit to see him was “tense” and “weird.”
But right after he wrapped that movie she got pregnant with Scout, Demi continued, “and it was like we’d never had that conversation about his ambivalence.”
By the time she made G.I. Jane, however, she wrote, “we were disconnected from each other emotionally. Our life was all about logistics surrounding the kids.” And while Demi knew her husband was proud of her success, she added, “I don’t know that he was always comfortable with the attention that came with it.”
Bruce—also one of the highest-paid actors around at the time—told Sheff of his wife’s eight-figure checks, “You have to be able to deliver, and she does. She hits a home run out of the park each time.” He also scoffed at what he described as twice-a-year breakup rumors, calling tabloid coverage of him and his marriage “irrelevant.”
But acknowledging that they’d been together for awhile, he said, “We both get asked, ‘How do you do it? How do you work this magical fairy tale of a life? How do you juggle it all?’ The answer is: I don’t know. The fact is, this is the longest either of us has stayed with anybody, so we’re in uncharted waters. We deal with it one day at a time.”
The warning signs not quite as in-your-face as they might have been in the age of social media, it was quite the blow to romantics everywhere when Bruce and Demi announced in 1998 that they were separating.
AP Photo/Clark Jones
In the immediate aftermath, they took the girls to their spread in Idaho, where Bruce lived in the guest house for awhile. At first he moved about 10 miles away, but eventually purchased the property across the street, making for a “true family compound,” Demi wrote in Inside Out.
Days after his divorce was finalized in 2000, Rolling Stone asked Bruce what had gone wrong between him and Demi. “Well, I can give you the philosophical answer, which is also the most universal: Things change. People grow at different rates. People change at different rates. 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. So it might have been a little more difficult for us.”
Pressed for a reason, the actor replied, “I haven’t figured it out yet. I still love Demi. We’re very close. We have three children whom we will continue to raise together, and we’re probably as close now as we ever were. We realize we have a lifelong commitment to our kids. Our friendship continues. The institution has been set aside.”
As suspect as that might have sounded, they walked the walk.
“It wasn’t easy at first,” Demi wrote in her book, “but we managed to move the heart of our relationship, the heart of what created our family, into something new that gave the girls a loving, supportive environment with both parents.”
The first iteration of their modern family made its debut in 2003, when Bruce and the kids joined Demi and her then-boyfriend Ashton Kutcher at the premiere of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle—“a damn good night,” the actress recalled in Inside Out—and the following year she brought the That ’70s Show star to Bruce’s 49th birthday party.
Bruce was then a guest when Demi and Ashton tied the knot at their L.A. home in 2005, and later hosted them at his home on Parrot Cay, in Turks and Caicos.
“We go on holidays together,” Bruce told Vanity Fair in 2007 ahead of the release of Live Free or Die Hard, featuring Demi and Ashton at the premiere. “We still raise our kids together—we still have that bond. Demi is the mother of my children and Ashton is the stepfather of my children. I’m thrilled that Ashton turned out to be such a great guy. I love Demi, and I know she loves me.”
Naturally, Demi and Ashton were in attendance when Bruce married Emma on Parrot Cay in March 2009.
“It’s generated a lot of interest because everyone can understand resentment and envy in the breakup of a marriage, but they don’t understand how I can get along with my ex like that,” Bruce told W a few months after remarrying. “Demi and I made a choice to put the kids first, and we’re really lucky that it turns out we all have fun together.”
Emma told the publication she was “definitely nervous” before meeting his kids “because I’d never dated a man who had children and I wanted to be really sensitive to that. But I’ve been really blessed because from day one it’s been comfortable and fun.”
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Not that Bruce, who doubted that he’d find lasting love again after his divorce, had relished every minute of seeing his ex-wife move on. (Demi and Ashton separated in 2011 and though in her memoir she recounted a lot of painful experiences surrounding their breakup, her 2022 AT&T Super Bowl commercial with the current Mrs. Kutcher, Mila Kunis, signaled that’s water under the bridge too.)
It wasn’t until Bruce met Emma through a mutual friend in 2007, he told W, that he “went from ‘f–k love’ to ‘love is truly the answer.’ I spent the last 10 years single and, for the most part, unhappy. In a dark place. I never thought that being with someone else was the answer. I would say, ‘I’m alone, but I’m not lonely.’ But I was just kidding myself. Then I started hanging around Emma, and on a day-to-day basis my life became much happier.”
Their daughter Mabel was born April 1, 2012, making Bruce the father of a baby again for the first time in 16 years.
“I’m happier than I’ve ever been,” he told Everything Zoomer in 2013. “I’m changing diapers like a champ. I was happy before she was born, and now I’m even happier. I’m in a good state of mind these days and I have been for some years now. I’ve learnt that my life revolves around my family and friends. When I’m not working, my days are devoted to the women in my life. I don’t need anything more than that.”
The Whole Nine Yards star added, “I’m glad I’ve stayed in good shape over the years. I still have a lot of energy left so I can get up early in the morning and take care of her for a while and let Emma relax.” The couple then welcomed daughter Evelyn on May 5, 2014.
And when Bruce and Emma renewed their vows for their 10th anniversary in 2019, Demi made the VIP guest list—even after her NSFW routine at the Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis in 2018. (“Are you surprised, Bruce Willis?” Demi asked. Turning to the audience, she cracked, “I knew he would be—even though I went over everything yesterday, I knew he’d forget.”)
As for Demi’s command appearance at the ceremony, “She welcomed me into her family like I welcomed her into ours,” Emma told Us Weekly afterward. “I have so much respect for how Bruce and Demi worked through their divorce to be able to put their children first. I learned so much from that and grew so much from watching that. It was important for her to be there. She was at our first wedding” and “I loved having her there again. I wouldn’t do it without her.”
It was also beautiful to have all five of Bruce’s daughters there, Emma said, explaining, “The older ones, they’re awesome, and they love being around their young sisters. The young ones just adore them. We’re moving back west, actually, so that we can be closer to them. The girls are very happy about that.”
That September, Bruce and Emma, Rumer, Scout and Tallulah all supported Demi at her book release party for Inside Out.
The family compound in Idaho also continued to come in handy, Emma, Mabel and Evelyn eventually making their way up there during the early days of the pandemic and both Bruce and Demi making their respective houses into go-to destinations for birthdays and many other all-hands-on-deck moments.
“When you’re in your 50s, the statistical average is, you’re gonna be dead in the next 20 to 40 years,” Bruce told Everything Zoomer in 2013. “While that’s not something I think about all the time, it makes me want to have a good day every day. As many good days as I can have.”
While the news about his aphasia sparked a hindsight-is-20/20 race to figure out just how long Bruce has been exhibiting any issues, his family kept the particulars private, only saying in their initial statement that he had been “experiencing some health issues” and the aphasia was “impacting his cognitive abilities.”
After his 67th birthday on March 19 (“Thankful for our blended family,” Demi posted that day), Bruce and Emma celebrated their 13th wedding anniversary March 21 and Mabel’s 10th birthday April 1, and pictures from the prior few months on his wife’s Instagram show them enjoying the lake and snow (with Mabel and Evelyn on skis for the first time) in Idaho and hiking in L.A., among other kid-friendly outings.
In a March 31 Instagram post, Scout called sharing the news about her dad’s aphasia “surreal,” admitting she had no idea what the response would be.
“I’d hoped for some love and compassion, I truly NEVER could have anticipated the depth and breadth of the love we received as a family yesterday,” she wrote. “It kept hitting me yesterday how much love, energy, and prayers were now being sent to my daddio and just humbling me in a way that’s brings tears as I write this. I am so grateful for your love, I’m so grateful to hear about what my papa means to you.”
There was a similar outpouring after they shared the admittedly “painful” latest news, prompting Scout to post, “Feeling emotionally tired and a bit overwhelmed, yet also very in awe of the love so many people have for my papa.” Both sisters chimed in that they agreed with the sentiment.
And now it continued to be about making the most of as many good days as possible.
“For us as a family it’s always been about making memories,” Emma told The Bump last May. “I’m not even sure we have rituals or traditions,” she shared. “We just love spending time with each other and we know that time is precious, and I don’t take that for granted.”
On Naomi Campbell‘s YouTube show, No Filter With Naomi, in 2021, Demi said that amid the horribleness of the pandemic, there had been certain “gifts and blessings” she took away from the experience.
“I personally feel like I was really grateful for things slowing down and the time that we had…to reevaluate what’s important,” Demi said. “Our family, regardless of what the shape of it is, it’s important to keep together.”
(Originally published April 5, 2022, at 10 a.m. PT)