Famed for his roles in Die Hard, Pulp Fiction and Moonlighting, Bruce Willis is known for bringing warmth and charm to tough characters. He’s one of the most successful movie stars of all time in box office terms – but Willis has also prospered in plenty of adventures outside Hollywood.
Raised in New Jersey, Willis gradually rose to fame through light-hearted comedy roles and a sideline as a crooner – but then he surprised everyone by becoming one of the biggest action movie stars of all time.
However, while tough guy roles have long been his bread and butter, there’s always been a lot more to the actor than that. Here are some facts you probably didn’t know about Bruce Willis.
20. He started acting because it fixed his childhood stutter
You might not have known that, in his younger years, Willis struggled with a stutter.
This all changed for the youngster when he discovered in his high school theatre classes that his speech problems vanished on stage.
In an interview with GQ Magazine in 2013, Willis recalled, “When I memorized words, I didn’t stutter, which was just miraculous.”
“That was the beginning of the gradual dispelling of my stutter. I thought I was handicapped. I couldn’t talk at all.”
Still, Willis admits the problem isn’t 100% eradicated in adulthood, stating, “I still stutter around some people now.”
Many more famous actors over the years have been stutterers, including James Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, Harvey Keitel and Willis’ sometime collaborator Samuel L Jackson.
19. He invested in Planet Hollywood with fellow action stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger
Planet Hollywood, a Tinseltown-themed restaurant franchise, received its earliest investments from Willis, Stallone and Schwarzenegger in 1991.
This was the cause of much hype at the time, as the three men were the biggest action stars in the world.
Stallone and Schwarzenegger had dominated big screen action for years thanks to such hits as Rambo and The Terminator.
Willis, meanwhile, was a comparatively new action man, joining their ranks with 1988’s Die Hard. As the years went on, the three actors enjoyed a (mostly) healthy and friendly competition in the action man stakes.
However, the famous trio wouldn’t appear alongside one another on film until 19 years later, when Willis and Schwarzenegger briefly cameoed in Stallone’s 2010 movie The Expendables.
This brief scene so delighted action fans that the trio would reunite in a more spectacular fashion on sequel The Expendables 2.
However, while Stallone and Schwarzenegger reunited again on The Expendables 3, Willis did not return, because (according to Stallone) he demanded too much money.
18. He once bought 12,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies
Military life has long been close to Willis’ heart – he was born into a military family stationed in West Germany.
Because of this, Willis has often looked to use his fame and fortune in support of the American armed forces.
In 2002, at the suggestion of his eight-year-old daughter Tallulah, Willis purchased 12,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies.
He sent the baked goods to sailors aboard the USS John F Kennedy, as well as troops throughout the Middle East.
In the following year, Bruce visited Iraq with his band The Accelerators, performing to entertain US soldiers.
At one point Willis even wanted to enlist in the military, but that didn’t work out as we’ll discuss next…
17. He wanted to join the military in 2003, but was rejected for being too old
Like many in America and around the world, Willis was deeply affected by the events of September 11th 2001.
Such was his passion on the matter, Willis was prepared to put his career on hold and serve in the US military.
The actor is said to have attempted to call President George W Bush directly to offer his services in the Army in 2003.
However, Willis’ offer was turned down as he was 47, and thereby too old to enlist.
At the time, the maximum age of any new recruit to the US Armed Forces was 34.
Following 9/11, Willis also swore off ever making action movies again – although he would ultimately change his mind about that.
16. His face was removed from the first posters for Die Hard
Today, everyone remembers the iconic poster for Die Hard as Bruce Willis’ face alongside the central Nakatomi tower.
But when the film was first released in 1988, the marketing department at studio 20th Century Fox weren’t sure that was the best idea.
Willis had never done an action movie before, and many audiences reacted with hostility and mockery to the idea of him playing a tough guy.
Because of this, the film was initially released with posters that removed Willis’ face and emphasised the Nakatomi building.
However, this was soon deemed misleading, as it made Die Hard look like a disaster movie in the vein of The Towering Inferno.
Happily, once the film was released positive word of mouth quickly spread about Willis, and the poster bearing his face was brought back into circulation.
15. He acted in a video game before anyone else did
Nowadays, it’s fairly common to see video game roles listed on an actor’s resume alongside film and TV work.
However, this wasn’t commonplace back in 1998, when Bruce Willis – then at the height of his fame – lent his likeness to a game.
Apocalypse used Willis’ voice for the hero Trey, a mercenary – but it also was the first game to combine an actor’s voice work with his movements to create a character.
Willis’ facial expressions and actions were photo-mapped onto Trey, using motion-caption technology to replicate his acting.
This unique opportunity allowed Willis to develop the character’s dialogue and personality in a completely new way.
In more recent years, other big name actors to appear in video games include Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077 and Liam Neeson in Fallout 3.
14. He wears his watches upside-down
Willis prefers to wear watches twisted around, with the face turned inwards on his wrist.
This is, by most people’s standards, an unusual way of wearing watches, as usually the face is turned outwards.
This habit makes it into quite a few of Willis’ film and TV performances, including Mercury Rising and Die Hard: With a Vengeance.
It’s particularly noticeable in Pulp Fiction, in which the story of his character Butch revolves around a missing watch.
Those who know their watches may notice that Willis’ Die Hard hero John McClane has a penchant for expensive timepieces.
Willis variously wears a Breitling chronograph and a Hamilton Jazzmaster in the Die Hard movies.
13. He turned down the part of Sam Wheat in Ghost
Not long after hitting the big time with Die Hard, Willis was offered the lead in another major movie: Ghost.
Willis was asked to play Sam Wheat, the everyday guy who is murdered and returns to his lost love in spectral form.
However, the actor was unimpressed by the script and declined, feeling no one would take him seriously if he played a ghost.
However, this didn’t deter the actor’s wife of the time, Demi Moore, who accepted the female lead alongside Patrick Swayze as Sam.
Ghost then proved to be a huge hit – and almost a decade later, Willis would eat his words about ghost movies.
In 1999, Willis enjoyed huge box office success and widespread acclaim with M Night Shyamalan’s supernatural drama The Sixth Sense.
12. A failed movie landed Willis a three-movie contract with Disney
Willis was once signed on as the producer and star of ‘Broadway Brawler,’ a romantic comedy.
However, after a few months, the film fell apart, reportedly due to infighting between Willis, the other producers and the cast.
Millions of dollars were lost from the project’s collapse, and as a producer it fell upon Willis to make up for these losses.
Because of this, Willis was forced to sign a three-movie deal with Disney, which was the parent company overseeing Broadway Brawler. However, while this was done out of obligation, the deal proved to be a great move for Willis.
The three films made from the Disney deal were Armageddon, The Sixth Sense and The Kid.
Together, these movies ended up grossing $1.2bn worldwide, cementing Willis as one of the greatest stars around.
11. His real first name is Walter
A big part of Bruce Willis’ appeal as a real man’s man movie star is his very macho-sounding name.
You might not have known, then, that his actual birth name doesn’t have quite such an air of alpha male.
He was born on 19th March 1955 as Walter Willis; Bruce is actually his second name.
By all accounts, Willis was never especially fond of his birth name, and preferred to be known as Bruce from early on.
At school he was popularly known as Buck-Buck and Bruno (the latter of which has remained a popular nickname throughout his life).
Still, Willis has made no secret of his real name, addressing it directly in a 2008 TV commercial.
Willis joined Ringo Starr, Elle Macpherson and Alice Cooper in an ad marking bank Norwich Union’s name change to Aviva.
10. He was picked for Die Hard after Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Frank Sinatra turned it down
As hard as it may be too imagine now, Bruce Willis’ casting in Die Hard was considered very bold and risky at the time.
The actor had only a few film roles to his name at the time, and those were in considerably lighter comedic fare.
He was hardly an obvious choice to play an action man like John McClane – but then, the filmmakers had already asked just about every other action star of the time.
Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Richard Gere, Harrison Ford, Charles Bronson and Robert De Niro were all offered the role, only to decline.
Most notoriously, the role had also been offered first to Frank Sinatra due to a contractual obligation (read more on that here).
Willis was ultimately chosen for the part thanks to his more comedic, warm outlook, which the producers thought would lighten the otherwise aloof character.
9. He worked as a private investigator before becoming an actor
Two of Bruce Willis’ most celebrated roles – in TV’s Moonlighting, and action movie The Last Boy Scout – cast him as a private investigator.
But did you know that, before he decided to pursue acting, Willis actually spent some time in that very profession?
Yes, it has been reported that Willis really did work as a private investigator for a short time in his younger years.
This was one among a number of professions he tried his hand at before deciding acting was the life for him.
Willis also spent some time as a security guard and a bus driver for factory employees before enrolling in the drama school at New Jersey’s Montclair State University.
Then while starting out as an actor, he made ends meet by working as a bartender in Manhattan.
8. He’s also a singer, and once had a top five single in the UK
Back-to-back with his acting career, Willis has also long pursued his interests in music.
In 1987, he starred in a musical comedy special for HBO entitled The Return of Bruno, in which he played a blues singer named Bruno Radolini.
The soundtrack of this short film was released as Willis’ first solo album, also entitled The Return of Bruno.
The album consisted mainly of cover versions, including a version of The Drifters song Under the Boardwalk.
This was released as a single, and was a hit in some countries – notably the UK, where it reached number 2 in the charts.
Willis followed The Return of Bruno with another album in 1989, If It Don’t Kill You It Just Makes You Stronger.
However, the albums sold poorly and Willis hasn’t released any more records since, although he still plays live on occasion.
7. His love scene in Color of Night was once declared the sexiest of all time
In 1994, Willis took the lead in Color of Night, one of a number of high profile erotic thrillers made in the wake of Basic Instinct.
The film cast Willis as a troubled psychiatrist drawn into a torrid affair with a member of his therapy group (Jane March) whilst under suspicion of murder.
Color of Night was generally considered a very bad career move on Willis’ part: it was a major flop and was greeted with scathing reviews.
However, in 2000 Maxim voted Willis and March’s central love scene into the number 1 slot of their poll of the best sex scenes ever.
Color of Night won out over similarly salacious scenes from Angel Heart, Wild Orchid, 9½ Weeks and more.
Hopefully that goes some way to making up for the fact that Color of Night ‘won’ that year’s Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture.
6. He was born in Germany to a German mother
He may be considered an all-American actor, but Bruce Willis was actually born outside the US.
He was the first child of American soldier David Willis and his German wife Marlene, while his father was stationed in Germany.
The Willis family lived in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany until their son was two years old.
Their father then moved the family back to his home town of Carneys Point, New Jersey.
Willis grew up there along with his three younger siblings, a sister and two brothers.
Willis described his upbringing as “blue collar;” his mother worked in a bank whilst his father worked a succession of jobs including mechanic and welder.
5. Terry Gilliam gave him a list of ‘Bruce Willis cliches’ to avoid on Twelve Monkeys
In 1995, Bruce Willis took the lead role in director Terry Gilliam’s dark science fiction thriller Twelve Monkeys.
Willis was at the height of his action hero fame at the time: Die Hard with a Vengeance came out the same year.
As such, both Gilliam and Willis himself were concerned that his man of action image could impede Twelve Monkeys.
With this in mind, Gilliam reportedly gave Willis a list of ‘Bruce Willis Acting Cliches’ which he wanted his leading man to avoid.
Sadly, no copies of this list seem to exist anywhere online, so exactly what was on there we can’t say for sure – but it’s almost certain that his trademark smirks and off-the-cuff wisecracks were blacklisted.
Whatever was on Gilliam’s forbidden list, we’d say it definitely worked: there’s no confusing James Cole of Twelve Monkeys with John McClane of the Die Hard series.
4. He first found fame doing TV commercials for Seagrams wine coolers
Moonlighting is remembered as Bruce Willis’ big break – but that TV detective comedy series was more of a cult sensation than a mainstream success.
For many in the US, Willis became a familiar face on TV through his commercials for Seagrams wine coolers.
Willis landed a contract to advertise the drinks company off the back of the success of Moonlighting.
This proved to be a lucrative deal for the up-and-coming star, reportedly earning him over $5 million between 1985 and 1987.
An offer was on the table for Willis to renew his contract with Seagrams in 1988, but he turned it down.
The actor explained in an interview with Playboy that he no longer wanted to advertise alcohol, as he had given up drinking.
However, years later Willis would again lend his likeness to alcohol advertising, for Sobieski vodka.
3. He’s still good friends with first wife Demi Moore
Bruce Willis and Demi Moore were one of Hollywood’s most celebrated power couples in the 1990s.
It was not to last, however, and the couple divorced in 2000 after 13 years of marriage.
Happily, Willis and Moore remain good friends despite it all; Willis was even in attendance when Moore married Ashton Kutcher.
Likewise, Moore and Kutcher were in attendance when Willis married his second wife Emma Heming in 2009.
Willis has fathered five daughters: Rumer, Tallulah and Scout with Moore, and Evelyn and Mabel with Heming.
Rumer Willis recently revealed her father has demanded a grandson, because he “[needs] some male energy in this group.”
2. He’s starred in 14 movies with numerical names
Bruce Willis has an impressive body of work including over a hundred feature film appearances.
Among his wide-ranging movie credits, Willis has appeared in a total of 14 films that all happen to have a number in their title.
These numbered movies include The First Deadly Sin, Twelve Monkeys, Four Rooms and The Fifth Element.
Then there’s The Sixth Sense, The Whole Nine Yards, 16 Blocks and National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1.
A few of these films with numbers in the title are, of course, sequels: The Whole Ten Yards, Ocean’s Twelve, Catch .44, The Expendables 2, RED 2.
Then there are the four Die Hard sequels – although only Die Hard 2: Die Harder technically has a number in the title (unless we count Die Hard 4.0, the international title for Live Free or Die Hard).
1. He is left-handed, but learned to write right-handed for The Sixth Sense
Willis is one of the most famous left-handed celebrities of his generation.
This on clear display in most of his movies, whether he’s wielding a pen or a machine gun.
However, when he shot The Sixth Sense, Willis painstakingly learned to write using his right hand.
The actor considered this critical to the role, as he wanted to conceal the fact that his character has lost his wedding ring. Anyone who’s seen The Sixth Sense will probably remember the ring plays a vital role in the film’s iconic twist ending.
Many expected Willis’ efforts in The Sixth Sense to land him an Oscar nomination, but this didn’t happen, although The Sixth Sense was nominated in several other major categories. To date, Willis has never been an Oscar nominee.