For Years, Hollywood Suspected Bruce Willis’ Deteriorating Health. They Exploited Him Anyway.

This is a labor issue.

Efo Films/Entertainment Pictures/Zuma

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It can be tempting, at a website named for a union organizer, to assume that everything is a labor issue. But I mean it when I say that Hollywood’s treatment of Bruce Willis over the last few years is a major labor issue.

You’ve probably heard by now that the Die Hard star is retiring due to aphasia, a condition that impairs the part of the brain that processes language. After an illustrious career that featured starring roles in movies like Pulp Fiction and The Sixth Sense, Willis had in recent years taken to churning out dozens of low-budget productions. A new Los Angeles Times article reveals just how bad things were on the set of those movies—and gives the impression that the actor was being taken advantage of.

Two crew members from the upcoming film White Elephant told the Times that Willis asked aloud, “Why am I here?” “Someone would give him a line and he didn’t understand what it meant,” a crew member said. “He was just being puppeted.”

The incidents ranged from relatively benign to potentially dangerous: A crew member from the 2020 movie Hard Kill said that Willis repeatedly fired a gun loaded with blanks on the wrong cue. The incident seems particularly stark in light of Alec Baldwin’s gun accidentally firing and killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of Rust last year.

So, why were the dozens of people involved in these films so set on working with someone who wasn’t cognitively fit to perform? Well, the money, of course. “His involvement in films—even if for a fleeting few minutes—helped low-budget independent filmmakers sell their films internationally,” the Times explains. “Having Willis’ face on a movie poster or a lineup of streaming service thumbnails helped draw viewers to his films.”

Seems a tad exploitative, no? I’m no Hollywood insider, but I hope these revelations will spur the industry to work toward safer on-set conditions for workers on- and off-screen.

This article first appeared in the Mother Jones Daily, our newsletter that cuts through the noise to help you make sense of the most important stories of the day. Sign up for free here!

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