Bruce Willis exhibited obvious signs of mental decline for several years before announcing his retirement from acting on Wednesday due to aphasia, according to a new Los Angeles Times report. Nearly two dozen people interviewed for the story detailed his inability to recall lines, with one cast member recalling one particularly harrowing incident in which Willis allegedly fired a prop gun loaded with a blank on the wrong cue. The actor also appeared to not be fully aware of his surroundings on set.
During the final four years of Willis’ career, he made 22 films. Despite his deteriorating condition, the action star was in high demand from low-budget independent filmmakers to help draw viewers to their movies, reportedly getting paid up to $2 million for two days of work.
According to the report, Willis’ management team stipulated his shoots were limited to two days of no more than eight hours per day as the actor struggled with remembering his dialogue. Even though his parts were cut down, Willis still needed the assistance of another actor named Huel Potter to feed him lines through an earpiece. Assistant-turned-handler Stephen J. Eads also kept a close eye on the actor on set.
More importantly, a body double stood in for Willis during most action scenes — particularly those which involved gunfire. While on the set of 2020’s Hard Kill, however, Willis allegedly fired a gun loaded with a blank on the wrong cue, according to two people on set.
Actor and Vanderpump Rules star Lala Kent, who played Willis’ daughter in the movie, went on record as saying Willis actually fired the gun on the wrong cue two takes in a row. “I’m supposed to think my life is about to end, and then my dad steps in to save the day,” Kent told the Los Angeles Times. “Because my back was to him, I wasn’t aware of what was happening behind me. But the first time, it was like, ‘No big deal, let’s reset.’”
Kent claimed that after she asked director Matt Eskandari to remind Willis to say his line before firing the gun, the same thing happened on the next take. Producer Randall Emmett, who is Kent’s former fiance, and the film’s armorer both denied that the incident occurred.
Eskandari didn’t respond to calls seeking comment, but one crew member remembered a situation in which Willis “did fire the gun on the wrong line,” and another crew member added, “We always made sure no one was in the line of fire when he was handling guns.”
Director Jesse V. Johnson, who shot White Elephant with Willis last April, remembered a drastically different person than the actor with whom he worked as a stuntman decades before. Johnson brought his concerns about Willis’ mental state to the actor’s team, and rushed through the production, as it seemed like Willis wasn’t fully aware of his surroundings.
“They stated that he was happy to be there, but that it would be best if we could finish shooting him by lunch and let him go early,” Johnson remembered. The filmmakers quickly finished the actor’s parts, even while Willis seemed to not understand where he was. “I know why you’re here, and I know why you’re here, but why am I here?” two crew members recalled him saying.
Out of Death and Wrong Place director Mike Burns went a step further, expressing relief at Willis’ retirement after seeing a drastic decline in the actor’s health in the year that passed between the two movies. “I didn’t think he was better; I thought he was worse,” Burns said. “After we finished, I said: ‘I’m done. I’m not going to do any other Bruce Willis movies.’ I am relieved that he is taking time off.”
Read the full report at the Los Angeles Times here.