Bruce Willis’ daughter Tallulah has written an emotional letter, recalling the first signs of her father’s declining health.
Back in February, it was announced that the Die Hard star had frontotemporal dementia. The condition is an uncommon type of dementia that causes problems with behaviour and language, caused by gradual changes and damage in the brain. The news came just one year after he retired from acting, following an initial aphasia diagnosis.
Now, in a new essay written for Vogue, his daughter Tallulah — whose mother is Demi Moore — has detailed that she knew her father’s health had been declining “for some time”, and shared intimate details on how her family became aware of his early signs of dementia.
“My family announced in early 2022 that Bruce Willis was suffering from aphasia, a brain-mediated inability to speak or to understand speech, and we learned earlier this year that that symptom was a feature of frontotemporal dementia, a progressive neurological disorder that chips away at his cognition and behaviour day by day,” she said, beginning the letter. “But I’ve known that something was wrong for a long time.”
“It started out with a kind of vague unresponsiveness, which the family chalked up to Hollywood hearing loss: ‘Speak up! Die Hard messed with Dad’s ears.’ Later that unresponsiveness broadened, and I sometimes took it personally.”
She added that she initially thought that his lack of attentiveness was due to him “losing interest in her”, particularly due to him remarrying and having two more children with his new partner, Emma Heming Willis.
“Though this couldn’t have been further from the truth, my adolescent brain tortured itself with some faulty math: I’m not beautiful enough for my mother, I’m not interesting enough for my father,” she said.
She also recalled that while her father was “quietly struggling” with his health, her battle with body dysmorphia, anorexia and Borderline Personality Disorder meant she was unable to cope with their changing relationship.
“I admit that I have met Bruce’s decline in recent years with a share of avoidance and denial that I’m not proud of [but] the truth is that I was too sick myself to handle it,” she explained, later recalling the moment when the seriousness of her dad’s illness first sank in. “I remember a moment when it hit me painfully: I was at a wedding… and the bride’s father made a moving speech. Suddenly I realised that I would never get that moment, my dad speaking about me in adulthood at my wedding. It was devastating.”
As the essay progressed, Tallulah explained that while it is still the “beginning of grief” for her family, as her father’s health can “shift so quickly and unpredictably”, she is determined to savour the remaining time she has with him.
“Every time I go to my dad’s house, I take tons of photos… searching for treasure in stuff that I never used to pay much attention to. I have every voicemail from him saved on a hard drive. I find that I’m trying to document, to build a record for the day when he isn’t there to remind me of him and of us,” she wrote. “He still knows who I am and lights up when I enter the room.”
“And now that I’m feeling better I ask myself, ‘How I can make him more comfortable?’” she added. “It feels like a unique and special time in my family, and I’m just so glad to be here for it.”
Earlier this year, Bruce Willis was seen for the first time since his diagnosis, as ex-wife Demi Moore took to Instagram to share a clip of the actor and his family celebrating his 68th birthday.
In the footage, the Pulp Fiction actor and his loved ones are seen celebrating the occasion in his home and singing Happy Birthday in their kitchen. “Happy birthday, BW! So glad we could celebrate you today,” she wrote in the caption. “Love you and love our family. Thank you to everyone for the love and warm wishes — we all feel them.”