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Bruce Willis's Life in Photos

In honor of the actor's birthday March 19, look back at his incredible career, family life and most memorable moments

<p>Matt Carr/Getty</p>

Matt Carr/Getty

Bruce Willis got his start in a will-they-or-won't-they TV comedy before transitioning into tough-guy roles that saw him saving everything from his wife's holiday party (Die Hard) to all of humanity (Armaggedon). Along the way, he dabbled in music, the restaurant business and Broadway, and dated in the spotlight. He married twice (to Demi Moore and Emma Heming) and is a proud dad to five daughters.

In recent years, Willis' health struggles and difficulty remembering his lines on set led to a diagnosis of aphasia and frontotemporal dementia. But surrounded by his family and friends, Willis continues to be a larger-than-life presence as he has his whole career. Read on for more on his life in photos.

Bruce Willis as a Baby

<p>ARCHIVIO GBB/Alamy</p>

ARCHIVIO GBB/Alamy

Born Walter Bruce Willis on March 19, 1955, in what was then West Germany, Willis was the eldest of four children born to Marlene, who was a German native, and David, an American soldier. After his father's discharge from the army several years later, the whole family moved back to his hometown of Carneys Point, N.J., where Willis grew up.

Bruce Willis in High School

<p>ARCHIVIO GBB/Alamy</p>

ARCHIVIO GBB/Alamy

As a child, Willis had a stutter so severe, he told GQ, "I thought I was handicapped. I couldn't talk at all."

Acting is what eventually helped him overcome the stutter: "I did some theater somewhere, probably in high school. And when I memorized words, I didn't stutter, which was just miraculous."

Despite his early affinity for acting, he didn't try for a career in it right away; he initially worked as a security guard at a power plant and attended college before dropping out to try his luck in the New York theater scene.

Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in 'Moonlighting'

ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty
ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty

After starting out with smaller roles and some work in N.Y.C. (including, reportedly as a private investigator — a job that would serve him well in his first big role!) Bruce Willis broke out 1985 in the series Moonlighting, alongside Cybill Shepherd. The dramedy about the pair's private detective work lasted five seasons and earned Willis both an Emmy and Golden Globe Award.

Bruce Willis' First Emmy

<p>Ralph Dominguez/MediaPunch via Getty</p>

Ralph Dominguez/MediaPunch via Getty

Moonlighting was a smash hit and earned Willis an Emmy (his first of two; the other was for a guest role on Friends) and a Golden Globe award.

Though Willis was a box-office success throughout his career, his tendency to choose humorous or action roles, in his opinion, kept him from being nominated for awards more often.

"You don’t get an Oscar for comedy, and you don’t get it for shooting people," he told GQ.

Bruce Willis' Music Career

<p>Motown/Getty</p>

Motown/Getty

While still white-hot from Moonlighting, Willis decided to release an album called The Return of Bruno in 1987, for which he filmed a "rockumentary"-style film and which saw moderate success with several singles, including one with the Pointer Sisters.

The star continued to play harmonica and sing with his blues band, The Accelerators, throughout his career, though his rock later ego Bruno did not make a return.

Bruce Willis in 'Die Hard'

Moviestore/Shutterstock
Moviestore/Shutterstock

Willis cemented his place in the pop culture canon with Die Hard, the first in a five-film series (Die Hard 2, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard) that sees Willis as New York City police detective John McClane, who uses his grit and ingenuity to thwart increasingly villainous groups of bad guys. In 2018, Willis answered a long-running question in the culture, stating that Die Hard is definitively not a Christmas movie.

Bruce Willis' Marriage to Demi Moore

Ron Wolfson/WireImage
Ron Wolfson/WireImage

In 1987, the two met at a screening of Stakeout, and within months of that initial encounter, they tied the knot in Las Vegas. They had three daughters together and worked together on projects including the film Mortal Thoughts, but in 1998, the two called it quits.

Despite their divorce, Willis and Moore remained very close friends in the ensuing years. "Early on Demi and I decided to put the kids first. What you see is the result of that," he told PEOPLE in 2005. "I am still great friends with Demi."

Bruce Willis and His Family

<p>Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty</p>

Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty

Though Willis' parents split up when he was still in school, he maintained a close relationship with both of them (he's pictured here with mom Marlene at the Die Hard 2 premiere in 1990). He lost his brother Robert to pancreatic cancer in 2001, but told PEOPLE he and his family tried to find the silver lining in their pain: "They say that no parent is supposed to bury their own child, but he really managed to help my mom and dad get through it and kind of brought my siblings back together."

Bruce Willis and Planet Hollywood

<p>ZUMA PRESS, Inc/Alamy</p>

ZUMA PRESS, Inc/Alamy

In one of the most '90s things to ever happen, Willis teamed up with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger to become the celebrity investors/promoters behind a new franchise of restaurants called Planet Hollywood, which were filled with movie memorabilia and themed drinks. (Moore was also an early celebrity endorser.)

Willis often lent his star power (and sometimes his musical talent) to new franchise openings, but in 1999 Planet Hollywood declared bankruptcy and maintains only a few locations these days, though Willis is still named as an investor.

Bruce Willis in 'Pulp Fiction'

Everett
Everett

Willis took a pay cut to join the all-star cast of the 1994 Quentin Tarantino classic as almost-past-his-prime boxer Butch Coolidge. He shared the screen with frequent collaborator Samuel L. Jackson, along with Uma Thurman and John Travolta.

According to a 2005 Washington Post interview, Willis also received lots of attention for embracing his baldness for the role – something for which he said many men thanked him for on the street.

And had anyone in Hollywood suggest he try a wig or hairplugs? "No. And had they done so I would have told them to go f--- themselves," he told the publication.

Bruce Willis as a Dad

<p>Rumer Willis/ Instagram</p>

Rumer Willis/ Instagram

Willis and Moore welcomed daughters Rumer in 1988, Scout in 1991 and Tallulah in 1994, raising them between L.A. and their Idaho ranch.

After Rumer was born, Moore said, "He's as passionate and as excited and as driven with being a father as he is with anything else that he does." And in a 2005 interview with PEOPLE, Willis shared his joy at watching his girls prepare to enter adulthood: "I get a big kick out of watching them grow up. Everybody says, 'Oh, you have three daughters, you gotta watch out.' But I think that their mom and I have both realized that it's our job to get them ready to go out into the world now. They're really good, they're well-mannered and funny, and they have a leg up if they want to act."

Bruce Willis on 'The Late Show with David Letterman'

<p>John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty</p>

John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty

Willis was so well-known for his game-for-anything appearances on Letterman's talk show that Rolling Stone named him the show's No. 1 guest upon Letterman's retirement. Always up for a silly gag (he's seen here on one of the last shows, wearing the same look — hair included — he wore on one of his first) and a good story, he had people eagerly tuning in.

Bruce Willis in 'Armaggedon'

Getty Armageddon Cast
Getty Armageddon Cast

Bruce Willis attempted to save humanity again (see also; 12 Monkeys, The Fifth Element) in this 1998 blockbuster about a group of men sent to save Earth from a deadly asteroid. It made more than $500 million domestically — and Willis' role as selfless Harry Stamper left many a moviegoer in tears.

Bruce Willis in 'The Sixth Sense'

Ron Phillips/Hollywood/Kobal/Shutterstock
Ron Phillips/Hollywood/Kobal/Shutterstock

Willis' role as psychologist Malcolm Crowe, assigned to help Haley Joel Osment's character with his affliction of seeing dead people, in the 1999 M. Night Shyamalan smash, was one of his most indelible. He also was part of one of the most shocking twists in cinematic history.

"I was as surprised by the ending in the script as, I think, the audience was in the theater," he recalled (no spoilers here!). "Completely unprepared for that ending. Once I knew the ending of the film ... I had to forget about it."

Bruce Willis Gets a Star on the Walk of Fame

<p>Gregg DeGuire/WireImage</p>

Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

In 2006, Willis was surrounded by his family and friends as he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (Years later, his young daughters would visit it — and his wax figure!)

Bruce Willis Marries Emma Heming

<p>Larry Busacca/WireImage</p>

Larry Busacca/WireImage

When speaking to PEOPLE in 2005, Willis had been dating for a few years (notable exes included Brooke Burns and Maria Bravo), but didn't see marriage in his future again.

"I think unless the hand of God intervenes, I'm going to go out as a bachelor," he said. "I actually said these words aloud for the first time this year: I'm comfortable being alone. I'm comfortable being single."

But shortly after that, he met model Emma Heming, and they hit it off instantly.

"When we first met, I was surprised at how charming and how funny he was – and extremely handsome," Heming Willis told PEOPLE of their first meeting; responded Willis, "I was already in love with her."

The two married in 2009 and have welcomed two daughters together in the years since.

Bruce Willis as a Dad (Again)

<p>Emma Heming Willis/Instagram</p>

Emma Heming Willis/Instagram

In 2012, the couple welcomed daughter Mabel, and in 2014 were joined by daughter Evelyn, making him a dad to five daughters in total.

"Bruce’s response when asked if he’d like to have a son?… “I’d have 5 more girls right now.” Happy Father’s Day to this proud #girldad," Heming Willis wrote on Instagram in 2021.

Heming Willis shared many sweet looks into their family life over the years, from impromptu dance parties to cozy couch snuggles.

Bruce Willis in 'Moonrise Kingdom'

Indian Paintbrush/Kobal/Shutterstock
Indian Paintbrush/Kobal/Shutterstock

Willis memorably joined the Wes Anderson family in 2012 as Captain Sharp in the charming, quirky coming-of-age film that costarred Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton.

The actor continued to work steadily throughout the past decade, including starring in a string of more than 15 action films within two years, but had increasing difficulty remembering his lines — a symptom which led to his initial diagnosis of aphasia, leading to his retirement.

Willis' attorney Marty Singer said Willis wanted to keep working as long as he could.

"My client continued working after his medical diagnosis because he wanted to work and was able to do so, just like many others diagnosed with aphasia who are capable of continuing to work," he said in 2022. "Because Mr. Willis appeared in those films, they could get financed. That resulted in literally thousands of people having jobs, many during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Bruce Willis' Diagnosis

<p>Rich Fury/Getty</p>

Rich Fury/Getty

As Willis' condition progressed, his family shared in 2023 that he had further been diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD).

"While this is painful, it is a relief to finally have a clear diagnosis," his family said in a statement. "Bruce has always found joy in life – and has helped everyone he knows to do the same ... We have been so moved by the love you have all shared for our dear husband, father, and friend during this difficult time. Your continued compassion, understanding, and respect will enable us to help Bruce live as full a life as possible."

Since the announcement, Heming Willis has shared a candid look into their life together amid her new role as caregiver, most recently debunking "clickbaity headlines" about Willis' condition.

"There is grief and sadness. There’s all of that. But you start a new chapter,” she said — one that's filled “with love, it’s filled with connection, it’s filled with joy, it’s filled with happiness."

Bruce Willis as a Grandfather

<p>Rumer Glenn Willis/Instagram</p>

Rumer Glenn Willis/Instagram

In April 2023, Willis' daughter Rumer welcomed daughter Louetta — Willis and Moore's first grandchild. She has since shared a few sweet photos of her dad bonding with his granddaughter, telling PEOPLE, "I love watching [my parents] with her."

She also said that Willis' genes are strong in the next generation.

“Whenever she's got a stern discerning look on her face, I just see Bruce Willis,” she told PEOPLE. “My dad — especially on Moonlighting — has this little side smirk, that very [mischievous] twinkle in his eye, and I see that so much in her.”

Bruce Willis' Blended Family

<p>Emma Heming Willis/Instagraqm</p>

Emma Heming Willis/Instagraqm

One thing remains the same despite many changes: Willis' blended family remains "closer than ever" with Moore and Heming Willis remaining good friends and Rumer raving about all her sisters' skill as aunts.

"I’m grateful and thankful to know this kind of love 🤍🧡," Heming Willis posted at Thanksgiving 2023 along with a photo of their family.

And on her birthday, Heming Willis praised the power of love once again, sharing a sweet snapshot with her husband.

"His love feels like the warmest coziest blanket. Once you’re wrapped in it, you never want to get out," she wrote.

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