Bruce Willis Collaborators Describe His Mental Decline on Final Films
Bruce Willis allegedly fired a gun loaded with a blank on the wrong cue while filming one of the myriad low-budget action movies he appeared in over the past several years despite his clear cognitive decline, according to a new Los Angeles Times report.
The story offers a striking account of Willis’ final few years as a professional actor, during which he made about 22 movies in four years even as his mental state deteriorated. On Wednesday, March 30, Willis’ family said he would be “stepping away” from acting because he was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease aphasia.
While the Willis family note said the actor had “recently been diagnosed” with aphasia, the LA Times report suggests his mental decline had long been apparent. His parts were often cut so he didn’t have to spend many days shooting, he reportedly had another actor feed him lines through an earpiece because he struggled to remember dialogue, and sometimes he allegedly seemed confused by his surroundings.
Two crew members on one film Willis worked on remembered him saying aloud, “I know why you’re here, and I know why you’re here, but why am I here?” (A rep for Willis and his family did not immediately return Rolling Stone‘s request for comment)
Many of Willis’ final films were direct-to-video action movies, and often scenes involving guns or action sequences were handled by a body double. But Willis allegedly ended up firing a gun on the wrong cue while filming the 2020 movie Hard Kill.
The gun Willis was handling was loaded with a blank and no one was injured, according to two people on set. But Lala Kent, the actress and Vanderpump Rules star who was cast as Willis’ daughter in the movie, said Willis fired the gun on the wrong cue twice.
According to Kent, she was situated in front of Willis, who was supposed to step up and save her life. Willis was reportedly meant deliver a line that would prompt Kent to duck before he fired the gun, but on two takes in a row, Willis fired the gun before saying the line.
“Because my back was to him, I wasn’t aware of what was happening behind me,” Kent said. “But the first time, it was like, ‘No big deal, let’s reset.’” An anonymous crew member also said he saw Willis “fire the gun on the wrong line,” but that, “We always made sure no one was in the line of fire when he was handling guns.”
Randall Emmett, who produced Hard Kill and has worked on over 20 Willis movies, denied the incident occurred, as did the film’s armorer. “I fully support Bruce and his family during this challenging time and admire him for his courage in battling this difficult medical condition,” Emmett said in a statement. “Bruce will always be a part of our family.”
As for Willis’ professional team, the report states that his agents at Creative Artists Agency made sure his contracts were limited to only a couple days of shooting and that he worked no more than eight hours a day (he reportedly often only stayed for four). On-set, Willis was reportedly accompanied by an entourage that included people like his long-time associate Stephen J. Eads; Eads was regularly credited as a producer on several Willis films, often making $200,000 per picture. One Hard Kill crew member said Eads “guided Bruce everywhere. He carted him around and kept an eye on him.”
Directors who worked with Willis in the final years of his career also said the actor had clearly lost his sharpness. Mike Burns said his decline was clear after just one day of working with Willis on Out of Death; when Burns was offered the chance to work with him again on another film, Wrong Place, the director said he asked one of Willis’ associates how the actor was doing, and the associate said Willis was “a whole different person… way better than last year.” Burns said he took the associate “at his word,” but was shocked when they began filming the movie last October.
“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.”