Willis at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con International
|Born||Walter Bruce Willis
March 19, 1955 
Idar-Oberstein, Rhineland-Palatinate, West Germany
|Residence||Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
|Other names||W. B. Willis, Walter Willis|
|Occupation||Actor, producer, writer, musician, singer|
|Children||5, including Rumer Willis|
Walter Bruce Willis (born March 19, 1955) is an American actor, producer and singer. His career began on the Off-Broadway stage and then in television in the 1980s, most notably as David Addison in Moonlighting (1985–89). He is perhaps best known for his role of John McClane in the Die Hard series, which were mostly critical and uniformly financial successes. He has appeared in over sixty films, including Color of Night (1994), Pulp Fiction (1994), 12 Monkeys (1995), The Fifth Element (1997), Armageddon (1998), The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Sin City (2005), Red (2010) and The Expendables 2 (2012).
Motion pictures featuring Willis have grossed US$2.64 billion to $3.05 billion at North American box offices, making him the eighth highest-grossing actor in a leading role and 12th-highest including supporting roles. He is a two-time Emmy Award–winning, Golden Globe Award–winning and four-time Saturn Award–nominated actor. Willis was married to actress Demi Moore and they had three daughters before their divorce in 2000, following thirteen years of marriage. Since 2009, he has been married to model Emma Heming, with whom he has two daughters.
Willis was born on March 19, 1955, in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany. His father, David Willis, was an American soldier. His mother, Marlene K., was German, born in Kassel. Willis is the oldest of four children: he has a sister, Florence, and a brother, David. His brother Robert died of pancreatic cancer in 2001, aged 42. After being discharged from the military in 1957, Willis's father took his family back to Carneys Point Township, New Jersey. Willis has described himself as having come from a "long line of blue collar people"; his mother worked in a bank and his father was a welder, master mechanic, and factory worker. Willis attended Penns Grove High School in his hometown, where he encountered issues with a stutter. He was nicknamed Buck-Buck by his schoolmates. Finding it easy to express himself on stage and losing his stutter in the process, Willis began performing on stage; and his high school activities were marked by such things as the drama club and student council president.
After working as a private investigator (a role he would play in the television series Moonlighting as well as in the 1991 film, The Last Boy Scout), Willis turned to acting. He enrolled in the Drama Program at Montclair State University, where he was cast in the class production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Willis left school in his junior year and moved to New York City, where in the early 1980s he supported himself as a bartender at the West 19th Street art bar Kamikaze.
After multiple auditions, Willis made his theater debut in the Off-Broadway production of Heaven and Earth. He gained more experience and exposure in Fool for Love, and in a Levi's commercial. Willis also played a lead role in the Off-Broadway production of writer-director Dennis Watlington's Bullpen for four years.
Willis left New York City and headed to California to audition for several television shows. In 1984, he appeared in an episode of the TV series Miami Vice, titled "No Exit". In 1985, he was the guest actor in the first episode of the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone, "Shatterday". He auditioned for the role of David Addison Jr. of the television series Moonlighting (1985–89), competing against 3,000 other actors for the position. The starring role, opposite Cybill Shepherd, helped to establish him as a comedic actor, with the show lasting five seasons. During the height of the show's success, beverage maker Seagram hired Willis as the pitchman for their Golden Wine Cooler products. The advertising campaign paid the rising star between $5–7 million over two years. In spite of that, Willis chose not to renew his contract with the company when he decided to stop drinking alcohol in 1988.
Willis had his first lead role in a feature film in the 1987 Blake Edwards film Blind Date, with Kim Basinger and John Larroquette. Edwards cast him again to play the real-life cowboy actor Tom Mix in Sunset (1988). However, it was his then-unexpected turn in the film Die Hard (1988) as John McClane that catapulted him to movie star and action hero status. He performed most of his own stunts in the film, and the film grossed $138,708,852 worldwide. Following his success with Die Hard, he had a leading role in the drama In Country as Vietnam veteran Emmett Smith and also provided the voice for a talking baby in Look Who's Talking, as well as its sequel Look Who's Talking Too.
In the late 1980s, Willis enjoyed moderate success as a recording artist, recording an album of pop-blues titled The Return of Bruno, which included the hit single "Respect Yourself", promoted by a Spinal Tap–like rockumentary parody featuring scenes of him performing at famous events including Woodstock. He released a version of the Drifters song "Under the Boardwalk" as a follow-up, which got to No. 2 in the UK Top 40, though was less successful in the U.S. Willis returned to the recording studio several times afterward. (See Discography below.)
Having acquired major personal success and pop culture influence playing John McClane in Die Hard, Willis reprised his role in the sequels Die Hard 2 (1990) and Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995). These first three installments in the Die Hard series grossed over US$700 million internationally and propelled Willis to the first rank of Hollywood action stars.
In the early 1990s, Willis's career suffered a moderate slump, as he starred in flops such as The Bonfire of the Vanities, Striking Distance and a film he co-wrote, Hudson Hawk, among others. He starred in a leading role in the highly sexualized erotic thriller, Color of Night (1994): another box office failure, it was savaged by critics but did well in the home video market and became one of the Top 20 most-rented films in the United States in 1995.
In 1994, he had a supporting role in Quentin Tarantino's acclaimed Pulp Fiction, which gave a new boost to his career. In 1996, he was the executive producer of the cartoon Bruno the Kid which featured a CGI representation of himself. He went on to play the lead roles in Twelve Monkeys (1995) and The Fifth Element (1997). However, by the end of the 1990s, his career had fallen into another slump with critically panned films like The Jackal, Mercury Rising, and Breakfast of Champions, saved only by the success of the Michael Bay-directed Armageddon which was the highest grossing film of 1998 worldwide. The same year his voice and likeness were featured in the PlayStation video game Apocalypse. In 1999, Willis then went on to the starring role in M. Night Shyamalan's film, The Sixth Sense. The film was both a commercial and critical success and helped to increase interest in his acting career.
In 2000, Willis won an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his work on Friends (in which he played the father of Ross Geller's much-younger girlfriend). He was also nominated for a 2001 American Comedy Award (in the Funniest Male Guest Appearance in a TV Series category) for his work on Friends. Also in 2000, Willis played Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski in The Whole Nine Yards alongside Matthew Perry. Willis was originally cast as Terry Benedict in Ocean's Eleven (2001) but dropped out to work on recording an album. In Ocean's Twelve (2004), he makes a cameo appearance as himself. In 2007, he appeared in the Planet Terror half of the double feature Grindhouse as the villain, a mutant soldier. This marked Willis's second collaboration with director Robert Rodriguez, following Sin City.
Willis has appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman several times throughout his career. He filled in for an ill David Letterman on his show February 26, 2003, when he was supposed to be a guest. On many of his appearances on the show, Willis stages elaborate jokes, such as wearing a day-glo orange suit in honor of the Central Park gates, having one side of his face made up with simulated buckshot wounds after the Harry Whittington shooting, or trying to break a record (parody of David Blaine) of staying underwater for only twenty seconds.
On April 12, 2007, he appeared again, this time wearing a Sanjaya Malakar wig. On his June 25, 2007, appearance, he wore a mini-turban on his head to accompany a joke about his own fictional documentary titled An Unappealing Hunch (a wordplay on An Inconvenient Truth). Willis also appeared in Japanese Subaru Legacy television commercials. Tying in with this, Subaru did a limited run of Legacys, badged "Subaru Legacy Touring Bruce", in honor of Willis.
Willis has appeared in four films with Samuel L. Jackson (National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1, Pulp Fiction, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and Unbreakable) and both actors were slated to work together in Black Water Transit, before dropping out. Willis also worked with his eldest daughter, Rumer, in the 2005 film Hostage. In 2007, he appeared in the thriller Perfect Stranger, opposite Halle Berry, the crime/drama film Alpha Dog, opposite Sharon Stone, and reprised his role as John McClane in Live Free or Die Hard. Subsequently, he appeared in the films What Just Happened and Surrogates, based on the comic book of the same name.
Willis was slated to play U.S. Army general William R. Peers in director Oliver Stone's Pinkville, a drama about the investigation of the 1968 My Lai Massacre. However, due to the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, the film was cancelled. Willis appeared on the 2008 Blues Traveler album North Hollywood Shootout, giving a spoken word performance over an instrumental blues rock jam on the track "Free Willis (Ruminations from Behind Uncle Bob's Machine Shop)". In early 2009, he appeared in an advertising campaign to publicize the insurance company Norwich Union's change of name to Aviva.
Willis starred with Tracy Morgan in the comedy Cop Out, directed by Kevin Smith and about two police detectives investigating the theft of a baseball card. The film was released in February 2010. Willis appeared in the music video for the song "Stylo" by Gorillaz. Also in 2010, he appeared in a cameo with former Planet Hollywood co-owners and '80s action stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film The Expendables. Willis played the role of generic bald man "Mr. Church". This was the first time these three legendary action stars appeared on screen together. Although the scene featuring the three was short, it was one of the most highly anticipated scenes in the film. The trio filmed their scene in an empty church on October 24, 2009. Willis next starred in RED, an adaptation of the comic book mini-series of the same name, in which he portrayed Frank Moses. The film was released on October 15, 2010.
Willis starred alongside Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and Frances McDormand in Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Filming took place in Rhode Island under the direction of Wes Anderson, in 2011. Willis returned, in an expanded role, in The Expendables 2 (2012). He appeared alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the sci-fi action film, Looper (2012), as the older version of Gordon-Levitt's character, Joe.
Willis teamed up with 50 Cent in a film directed by David Barrett called Fire with Fire, starring opposite Josh Duhamel and Rosario Dawson, about a fireman who must save the love of his life. Willis also joined Vince Vaughn and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Lay the Favorite, directed by Stephen Frears, about a Las Vegas cocktail waitress who becomes an elite professional gambler. The two films were distributed by Lionsgate Entertainment.
Willis reprised his most famous role, John McClane, for a fifth time, starring in A Good Day to Die Hard, which was released on February 14, 2013. In an interview, Willis said, "I have a warm spot in my heart for Die Hard..... it's just the sheer novelty of being able to play the same character over 25 years and still be asked back is fun. It's much more challenging to have to do a film again and try to compete with myself, which is what I do in Die Hard. I try to improve my work every time."
Willis owns property in Los Angeles and in Penns Grove, New Jersey; rents apartments at Trump Tower and in Riverside South, Manhattan, both in New York City; has a home in Malibu, California; a ranch in Montana; a beach home on Parrot Cay in Turks and Caicos; and multiple properties in Sun Valley, Idaho.
In 2000, Willis, with his business partner Arnold Rifkin, started a motion picture production company called Cheyenne Enterprises. He left the company to be run solely by Rifkin in 2007 after Live Free or Die Hard. He also owns several small businesses in Hailey, Idaho, including The Mint Bar and The Liberty Theater and is a co-founder of Planet Hollywood, with actors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. In 2009 Willis signed a contract to become the international face of Belvedere SA's Sobieski Vodka in exchange for 3.3% ownership in the company.
Relationships and children
At the premiere for the film Stakeout, Willis met actress Demi Moore. They married on November 21, 1987, and had three daughters: Rumer Willis (b. August 16, 1988), Scout LaRue Willis (b. 1991), and Tallulah Belle Willis (b. 1994) before they divorced on October 18, 2000. The couple gave no public reason for their breakup. Regarding the divorce, Willis stated, "I felt I had failed as a father and a husband by not being able to make it work." He credited actor Will Smith for helping him cope with the situation. After their breakup, rumors persisted that the couple planned to remarry, until Demi Moore married Ashton Kutcher. Willis has maintained a close relationship with both Moore and Kutcher, even attending their wedding.
Willis was engaged to actress Brooke Burns until they broke up in 2004 after ten months together. He married model Emma Heming in Turks and Caicos on March 21, 2009; guests included his three daughters, Demi Moore, and Ashton Kutcher. The ceremony was not legally binding, so the couple wed again in a civil ceremony in Beverly Hills, six days later. The couple has two daughters: Mabel Ray Willis (b. 2012) and Evelyn Penn Willis (b. 2014).
Organized religions in general, in my opinion, are dying forms. ... They were all very important when we didn't know why the sun moved, why weather changed, why hurricanes occurred, or volcanoes happened. ... Modern religion is the end trail of modern mythology. But there are people who interpret the Bible literally. Literally! I choose not to believe that's the way. And that's what makes America cool, you know?
In 1988, Willis and then-wife Demi Moore campaigned for Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis's Presidential bid. Four years later, he supported President George H. W. Bush for reelection and was an outspoken critic of Bill Clinton. However, in 1996, he declined to endorse Clinton's Republican opponent Bob Dole, because Dole had criticized Demi Moore for her role in the film Striptease. Willis was an invited speaker at the 2000 Republican National Convention, and supported George W. Bush that year. He did not make any contributions or public endorsements in the 2008 presidential campaign. In several June 2007 interviews, he declared that he maintains some Republican ideologies.
In 2006, he said that the United States should intervene more into Colombia, in order to end the drug trafficking. In several interviews Willis has said that he supports large salaries for teachers and police officers, and said he is disappointed in the United States foster care system as well as treatment of Native Americans. Willis also stated that he is a supporter of gun rights, stating, "Everyone has a right to bear arms. If you take guns away from legal gun owners, then the only people who have guns are the bad guys."
In February 2006, Willis appeared in Manhattan to talk about his film 16 Blocks with reporters. One reporter attempted to ask Willis about his opinion on the current government, but was interrupted by Willis in mid-sentence: "I'm sick of answering this fucking question. I'm a Republican only as far as I want a smaller government, I want less government intrusion. I want them to stop shitting on my money and your money and tax dollars that we give 50 percent of every year. I want them to be fiscally responsible and I want these goddamn lobbyists out of Washington. Do that and I'll say I'm a Republican. I hate the government, OK? I'm apolitical. Write that down. I'm not a Republican."
Throughout his film career, Willis has depicted several military characters in films such as The Siege, Hart's War, Tears of the Sun, Grindhouse and G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Growing up in a military family, Willis has publicly sold Girl Scout cookies for the United States armed forces. In 2002, Willis's then 8-year-old daughter, Tallulah, suggested that he purchase Girl Scout cookies to send to troops. Willis purchased 12,000 boxes of cookies, and they were distributed to sailors aboard USS John F. Kennedy and other troops stationed throughout the Middle East at the time.
In 2003, Willis visited Iraq as part of the USO tour, singing to the troops with his band, The Accelerators. Willis considered joining the military to help fight the second Iraq war, but was deterred by his age. It was believed he offered $1 million to any noncombatant who turns in terrorist leaders Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; in the June 2007 issue of Vanity Fair, however, he clarified that the statement was made hypothetically and not meant to be taken literally. Willis has also criticized the media for its coverage of the war, complaining that the press were more likely to focus on the negative aspects of the war:
I went to Iraq because what I saw when I was over there was soldiers—young kids for the most part—helping people in Iraq; helping getting the power turned back on, helping get hospitals open, helping get the water turned back on and you don't hear any of that on the news. You hear, 'X number of people were killed today,' which I think does a huge disservice. It's like spitting on these young men and women who are over there fighting to help this country.
Willis stated in 2005 that he wanted to "make a pro-war film in which American soldiers will be depicted as brave fighters for freedom and democracy." The film would follow members of Deuce Four, the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry, who spent considerable time in Mosul and were decorated heavily for it. The film is to be based on the writings of blogger Michael Yon, a former United States Army Special Forces soldier who was embedded with Deuce Four and sent regular dispatches about their activities. Willis described the plot of the film as "these guys who do what they are asked for very little money to defend and fight for what they consider to be freedom."
In 1996, Roger Director, a writer and producer from Moonlighting, wrote a roman à clef on Willis titled A Place to Fall. Cybill Shepherd wrote in her 2000 autobiography, Cybill Disobedience, that Willis was angry at Director, because the character was written as a "neurotic, petulant actor." In 1998, Willis participated in Apocalypse, a PlayStation video game. The game was originally announced to feature Willis as a sidekick, not as the main character. The company reworked the game using Willis's likeness and voice and changed the game to use him as the main character.
- 1987: The Return of Bruno (Motown, OCLC 15508727)
- 1989: If It Don't Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger (Motown/Pgd, OCLC 21322754)
- 2001: Classic Bruce Willis: The Universal Masters Collection (Polygram Int'l, OCLC 71124889)
- 1986: Moonlighting soundtrack; track "Good Lovin'"
- 1991: Hudson Hawk soundtrack; tracks "Swinging on a Star" and "Side by Side", both duets with Danny Aiello
- 2003: Rugrats Go Wild soundtrack; "Big Bad Cat" with Chrissie Hynde and "Lust for Life"
- 2008: North Hollywood Shootout, Blues Traveler; track "Free Willis (Ruminations from Behind Uncle Bob's Machine Shop)"
Awards and honors
Willis has won a variety of awards and has received various honors throughout his career in television and film.
- 1986/87: Emmy (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series) and Golden Globe (Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series – Comedy/Musical) Awards for Moonlighting (also received four nominations for the show)
- 1986: Nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for In Country
- 1994: Maxim magazine ranked his sex scene in Color of Night the #1 sex scene in film history
- 1998: Golden Raspberry Award (Worst Actor) for Armageddon, Mercury Rising and The Siege
- 2000: Blockbuster Entertainment Award ("Favorite Actor – Suspense") and the People's Choice Award ("Favorite Motion Picture Star in a Drama") for The Sixth Sense (also nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Actor and received two nominations for the MTV Movie Awards for "Best Male Performance" and "Best On-Screen Duo")
- 2000: Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for Friends
- 2002: The Hasty Pudding Man of the Year award from Harvard's Hasty Pudding Theatricals – given to performers who give a lasting and impressive contribution to the world of entertainment
- 2002: Appointed as national spokesman for Children in Foster Care by President George W. Bush; Willis wrote online: "I saw Foster Care as a way for me to serve my country in a system by which shining a little bit of light could benefit a great deal by helping kids who were literally wards of the government."
- 2006: Honored by French government for his contributions to the film industry; appointed an Officer of the French Order of Arts and Letters in a ceremony in Paris; the French Prime Minister stated, "This is France's way of paying tribute to an actor who epitomizes the strength of American cinema, the power of the emotions that he invites us to share on the world's screens and the sturdy personalities of his legendary characters."
- 2006: Honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on October 16; located at 6915 Hollywood Boulevard and it was the 2,321st star awarded in its history; at the reception, he stated, "I used to come down here and look at these stars and I could never quite figure out what you were supposed to do to get one...time has passed and now here I am doing this, and I'm still excited. I'm still excited to be an actor."
- 2011: Inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame
- 2013: Promoted to the dignity of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters on February 11 by French Minister of Culture Aurélie Filippetti
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His mother Marlene was born in the nearby town of Kassel.
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Steven Feinberg, executive director for the Rhode Island Film and Television Office, says on-site work on the film, 'Moonrise Kingdom,' is scheduled to begin this spring. Feinberg says the film will be shot in several locations in Rhode Island.
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Now Variety reports that for some reason, the two will team-up again for an indie drama called Fire with Fire.
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Vince Vaughn will join Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the gambling drama Lay the Favorite.
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