Long before actor Bruce Willis announced to the world that his acting career was over, entertainment insiders had squirmed as they watched the signs of decline, according to a new report.
“He just looked so lost, and he would say, ‘I’ll do my best.’ He always tried his best,” Terri Martin, production supervisor on the film “White Elephant,” said Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles Times. “He is one of the all-time greats, and I have the utmost admiration and respect for his body of work, but it was time for him to retire.”
On Wednesday, the family of Willis, 67, said he was retiring because he suffered from a cognitive disorder known as aphasia.
“As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him,” the actor’s daughter Rumer Willis wrote in an Instagram post also signed by other members of the family, the actor’s wife, Emma, and his former wife, Demi Moore.
But what came as shock to his fans had been witnessed by insiders.
In July 2020, Mike Burns, the director of “Out of Death,” had to shorten the lines Willis had in the film, one of 22 he did in the past four years.
“After the first day of working with Bruce, I could see it firsthand and I realized that there was a bigger issue at stake here and why I had been asked to shorten his lines,” Burns said.
Last fall, he worked with Willis again in “Wrong Place” and came away saddened.
“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.”
Was Bruce Willis a great actor?
Jesse V. Johnson, who directed “White Elephant,” had worked with Willis in the past, and found that when he began working with Willis last April, “it was clear that he was not the Bruce I remembered,” Johnson said.
The LA Times report said crew members it did not name said Willis seemed lost.
“I know why you’re here, and I know why you’re here, but why am I here?” he said, according to the unnamed crew members.
“It was less of an annoyance and more like: ‘How do we not make Bruce look bad?’” one crew member said. “Someone would give him a line and he didn’t understand what it meant. He was just being puppeted.”
Johnson said he passed on directing more Willis films.
“After our experience on ‘White Elephant,’ it was decided as a team that we would not do another,” Johnson said. “We are all Bruce Willis fans, and the arrangement felt wrong and ultimately a rather sad end to an incredible career, one that none of us felt comfortable with.”
Stephen Eads, described by the Times report as Willis’s “assistant-turned-handler” was his on-set helper and “guided Bruce everywhere,” a crew member on 2020’s “Hard Kill” said “He carted him around and kept an eye on him.”
In 2018, Eads signed a three-movie deal for Willis that paid Eads $200,000 per picture, according to a contract the LA Times said it reviewed.
Because Willis had problems remembering his lines, actor Adam Huel Potter gave the star his lines through an earpiece worn by Willis.