There's a 'Sad Irony' in Bruce Willis' Final Roles

He had few lines, making his cognitive decline hard to detect, writes Matt Zoller Seitz
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 13, 2022 10:15 AM CDT
There's a 'Sad Irony' in Bruce Willis' Final Roles
In this publicity photo released by Spyglass Entertainment, Haley Joel Osment, left, and Bruce Willis appear in a scene from the film "The Sixth Sense."   (AP Photo/Spyglass Entertainment, Ron Phillips, File)

Bruce Willis is out of the acting game, with the brain disorder aphasia making it impossible for him to remember lines. By the end of his career, he had been reduced to making what amounted to cameos—very lucrative cameos—in mindless, direct-to-video action movies. Willis had little dialogue in these later roles, which made his cognitive decline that much harder for the public to spot, writes Matt Zoller Seitz at Vulture. In his piece, Zoller Seitz traces the arc of Willis' career—beginning with TVs Moonlighting, in which Willis played a quick-thinking and even quicker-talking leading man—and laments what came to be. "That Willis’s evolution from a smooth-talking romantic alpha to an uncommunicative meathead made the alleged exploitation easier to hide is a sad irony of his late-career decline," writes Zoller Seitz.

The piece looks back at how Willis became a household name with Die Hard, but with a "human-scale machismo" that endeared him to audiences. The actor expertly managed this he-man/human split in his roles, and by "the late ’90s, Willis had established himself as a versatile lead who could switch between cranky bruisers and sensitive souls." The final phase of his career sadly revolved around playing direct-to-video thugs. Zoller Seitz poses chicken-and-egg questions about this decline: "Did Willis’s artistic standards sink and then he began to decline cognitively? Or did the decline start long ago, out of public sight, prompting him (or his handlers) to start saying yes only to material that was undemanding enough for an impaired actor to handle?" We may never know the answers because the most important witness, Willis himself, cannot weigh in, writes Zoller Seitz. (His full piece is worth a read for Willis fans.)

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