Bruce Willis biography

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Bruce Willis biography

Actor. Born Walter Bruce Willis, on March 19, 1955, in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany. The Willis family moved from a West German military base to the small town of Carneys Point, New Jersey, when Bruce was two years old. He grew up as the oldest of four children in a blue-collar family (his father, David, was a welder). As a teenager, he worked in a DuPont chemical plant. After graduating from high school, Willis attended Montclair (NJ) State College, where he first became interested in acting. He left college and moved to New York City in 1977, when he landed a bit part in an Off-Broadway play. In New York, he supported himself by working as a bartender in between small roles in stage productions.
Willis’ first break came in 1984, when he stepped in for another actor in the lead role in Sam Shepard’s Off-Broadway hit Fool for Love. His success led to an audition for Desperately Seeking Susan, an upcoming production starring Madonna. Willis didn’t get the role, but he stayed in Hollywood long enough to attend a casting call for a new television series called Moonlighting. Chosen from among 3,000 hopefuls to play the wisecracking private detective David Addison, Willis became a star overnight when Moonlighting became a hit. The chemistry between Willis and co-star Cybill Shepherd won over fans for four successful seasons (1985-89), and Willis won an Emmy in 1987 for Best Actor in a Television Series (Comedy or Musical).

Willis made his big-screen debut in the Blake Edwards-directed comedy Blind Date (1987), co-starring Kim Basinger. Though the film was a critical and commercial disappointment (as was his second effort, 1988’s Sunset, also directed by Edwards), Willis was only one role away from joining Hollywood’s A-list. His starring turn as New York City policeman John McClane in Die Hard (1988) netted Willis a $5 million paycheck (a colossal amount at the time). A huge box-office hit, Die Hard spawned two huge sequels (in 1990 and 1995) and cemented Willis’ position alongside Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the elite group of Hollywood’s top action heroes.

Willis scored another hit—and another huge paycheck—when he lent his voice to the inner monologue of Mikey, the baby at the center of the 1989 comedy Look Who’s Talking (and its less successful 1990 sequel), starring Kirstie Alley and John Travolta.

Though he earned critical buzz for his performance as a scarred Vietnam veteran in 1989’s In Country, the film’s mediocre performance at the box office marked the first of a series of unsuccessful non-Die Hard efforts for Willis. The low point over the next few years was the 1991 bomb Hudson Hawk, a $58 million film that Willis co-wrote, but the period also brought such critical and commercial disappointments as the much-hyped Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), co-starring Tom Hanks and Melanie Griffith; Billy Bathgate (1991), starring Dustin Hoffman; and Death Becomes Her (1992), co-starring Meryl Streep. Even the action thriller The Last Boy Scout (1991) failed to reach the box office heights of the Die Hard series.

In 1994, Willis emerged from this slump with two powerful supporting performances in relatively low-budget films—Quentin Tarantino’s gleefully violent Pulp Fiction (which also revived Travolta’s fading career) and Nobody’s Fool, starring Paul Newman. He also had a much-talked-about frontal nude scene in the psychological thriller Color of Night (1994). Unlike many of his fellow action heroes, Willis continued to mix riskier roles in smaller films with big-budget action films—meeting with varying results. He scored hits with two weird futuristic thrillers—Twelve Monkeys (1995), also featuring Brad Pitt, and The Fifth Element (1997)—while more traditional action films, like Last Man Standing (1996), The Jackal (1997), co-starring Richard Gere, and Mercury Rising (1998), did relatively mediocre business.

After Disney bailed out of Willis’ comedy project Broadway Brawler in the middle of production in 1997, he found himself unexpectedly available to star in the space action extravaganza Armageddon, also featuring Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, and Michael Clarke Duncan. Though the critics panned it, Armageddon became the top-grossing film of 1998, earning over $520 million worldwide. Also in 1998, he starred alongside Denzel Washington and Annette Bening in The Siege.

Willis surpassed all his previous box office triumphs in 1999, however, with his turn as a child psychologist with a clairvoyant client (11-year-old Haley Joel Osment), in the suspenseful drama The Sixth Sense. Nominated for six Academy Awards—including Best Picture, Best Director (M. Night Shyamalan), Best Supporting Actor (Osment), and Best Supporting Actress (Toni Collette)—the film became one of the 10 top-grossing films of all time, earning a total of almost $650 million worldwide.

Willis’ two other 1999 offerings—the low-budget film Breakfast of Champions (based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel), co-starring Nick Nolte and Albert Finney; and the sentimental family drama The Story of Us, co-starring Michelle Pfeiffer—were less successful. For each of the three films, Willis appeared for far less than his usual asking price, but his back-end deal for a percentage of The Sixth Sense’s gross netted him an estimated $60 million. In 2000, Willis showed off his considerable comedic talent by starring as a hit man in the hit film The Whole Nine Yards, and guest starring on three episodes of the hit TV series Friends during the May sweeps. He took on another young costar (7-year-old Spencer Breslin) later that year in The Kid, a comedy about a wealthy man with a midlife crisis who magically comes face-to-face with a much-younger version of himself. Unbreakable, Willis' second feature with his Sixth Sense screenwriter and director, Shyamalan, was the most highly-anticipated film of the fall of 2000. Another supernatural thriller, the film costarred Samuel L. Jackson (who previously teamed with Willis in Die Hard 3) and Robin Wright Penn. Along with fellow action stars Stallone and Schwarzenegger, Willis was one of the original investors in Planet Hollywood, a chain of restaurants with branches worldwide. The Planet Hollywood franchise filed for bankruptcy in October 1999, but has continued to operate during its reorganization process. A singer and harmonica player, Willis often performs with his band, the Accelerators, at Planet Hollywood branches in Europe. Willis and his wife, the actress Demi Moore, announced their separation in July 1998, after more than 10 years of marriage. The couple, who married in November 1987 and appeared together in the 1991 film Mortal Thoughts, have three daughters, Rumer, Scout, and Tallulah Belle. While Moore, an A-list Hollywood star in her own right, lives on their 18-acre ranch in Hailey, Idaho, Willis bought a home just five miles north of Hailey. The couple's divorce was finalized in the fall of 2000.

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