Sympathy for Bruce Willis


I was saddened to read about Bruce Willis‘ forced retirement from acting due to aphasia.  I knew very little about the disease/condition, and tried to find out more about it.  Jewish World Review has a good article on the subject.

Aphasia is a disorder that robs people of their basic communication skills. It affects the area of the brain that controls language and the ability to speak, write, or understand words. Aphasia can make it impossible to remember the names of common objects or to verbalize even simple thoughts. People with aphasia may know exactly what they want to express yet be unable to articulate the words they need. They may find themselves at a loss to make sense of even the simplest written words.

For anyone inflicted with aphasia, the experience can be distressing, excruciating, disorienting, or frightening. But for someone whose livelihood and persona are based on words — like an actor, a broadcaster, or a writer — aphasia is uniquely nightmarish.

When the novelist, poet, and essayist Paul West had a stroke in 2003, the resulting aphasia toppled him, as his wife, Diane Ackerman, put it, into a “private hell” diabolically tailored to destroy his greatest talents.

“The author of more than 50 stylishly written books, a master of English prose with the largest working vocabulary I”d ever encountered, a man whose life revolved around words, he had suffered brain damage to the key language areas of his brain and could no longer process language in any form,” Ackerman wrote in The American Scholar. It afflicted him with “the curse of a perpetual tip-of-the-tongue memory hunt” and for a time “all he could utter was the syllable ‘mem.” Nothing more.”

When H.L. Mencken was stricken with aphasia in 1948, his friends and loved ones “were stunned by the grotesque irony of it,” wrote Terry Teachout in his biography of the towering critic and journalist. “All he could do now was sign his name, scrawl an occasional one-sentence note full of misspelled words, and recognize the names of people he knew when he saw them in the paper.” Only with difficulty could Mencken still make himself understood. He was devastated by the realization that his career was over. Above all, he was shattered by the fact that he could no longer read, and he began referring to himself in the past tense, as if he were already dead.

There’s more at the link.

It seems that after one has suffered from aphasia for a while, recovery is very unlikely, and therapy probably won’t improve the situation.  I’m very sorry that a man like Bruce Willis, whose whole life and career have revolved around the use of language and expression, is now having to adjust to the loss of almost everything that’s been important to him.  I can’t begin to imagine how he must hate it.  He has all my sympathy.

I’ll always be grateful to Mr. Willis for the enjoyment some of his movies have given me, including the original “Die Hard” (IMHO, by far the best of the series) and, of course, “The Fifth Element“, one of my favorite science fiction action comedies.  I’m sure readers will have their own favorites.

In his honor, here’s a clip from “The Fifth Element” where he struggles to express himself to an alien being, and vice versa.  It’s a cruel irony that that very struggle has now ended his career, and redefined the last years of his life.



  1. Various injuries, diseases, or ailments affect people for long periods. People adapt through medicine, equipment, and help from others. In Willis' case he will need help from his wife and family, but unlike many Americans with problems he has more money to assist.

  2. I caught a USO in the late 90's where Bruce Willis' Blues band rocked the air base in UAE. Base policy there was a two beer limit and no other alcohol was allowed. He was throwing the small one shot whiskey bottles out to the crowd. The entire base woke with a hangover the next morning.

    Thought's and prayer's go out to Bruce.

  3. "Aphasia" my @$$.

    99:1 he had a stroke, as a direct result of the COVID clot shot, and aphasia is the remaining deficit.

    Sad nonetheless, but let me help out here, by providing a list of all the actors Willis' age who suffered a sudden attack of "aphasia" from 1900-2019:

    You're welcome.

  4. This reminds me of the situation with Sir Terry Pratchett, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's. For such a man, of those talents, to find hin=mself so afflicted…. his suicide was no surprise.

    In similar circumstances, I would certainly do the same. To lose one's mind, or grasp of language, whilst being simultaneously aware of the gradations of that loss, would be a unique form of hell to a thoughtful person.

    Mike in Canada

  5. I like that his x and wife are both there for him now. I liked him in Moonlighting and most of the other things he made. To retire is not such a bad thing but oh will I now miss the movie of might have been, RED 3

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