Before deciding to become an actor Willis worked a number of odd jobs; such as a security guard at a nuclear power plant and even as a private detective. The latter of which might have come into importance with his first leading role after entering the acting profession – as a private eye in the comedy-drama television programme Moonlighting. This cemented the actor’s comedic chops and during the show’s run, he won an Emmy award, as well as a Golden Globe. Funnily enough, during this time Willis netted a job in a long-running advertising campaign for Seagram’s Golden Wine Coolers, which he later left after quitting alcohol. However, his most famous role would be on film instead of on television.
Starring in several Hollywood films, it was his turn as detective John McClane in Die Hard that made Willis a pop culture icon and a staple of the big action blockbuster. Whilst the first three instalments in the Die Hard franchise all became box office successes, the next decade of Willis’ career could be described as ‘diverse’ at best. With acclaimed films such as Pulp Fiction, The Fifth Element and 12 Monkeys being put alongside not-so-acclaimed pictures like The Jackal, Mercury Rising and Look Who’s Talking Too. However. With blockbusters like Michael Bay’s Armageddon (which was the highest-grossing film of 1998) and M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 film Sixth Sense, it could be said that Willis fared better in the ’90s than he did in the 2000s and 2010s.
In the New Millennium, Willis made appearances on the television programme Friends as well as in fondly remembered pictures like Unbreakable, Moonrise Kingdom and Over The Hedge. However, the latter half of his career would be dominated by both financial and critical failures, with even financial peaks such as The Expendables being savaged by critics. Willis infamously and frequently made low budget independent films that were largely panned by critics, however, it was here that his cognitive decline was becoming more and more apparent – requiring his scenes to be small and his dialogue read to him over an earpiece. This period in Willis’ career was so poorly received that in 2021, the Golden Raspberry Award created a dedicated category all to himself – The Worst Bruce Willis Performance in 2021. After the reveal of Willis’ diagnosis, the Raspberry awards retracted the category, deeming it inappropriate.
Bruce Willis defined a generation of action blockbusters with his role as John McClane – showing that an ‘Everyman’ could wind up a hero. Whilst his career is flecked with disappointments (both critically and financially), it is surely his peaks that will be remembered instead of his lows.