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Actor Bruce Willis was recently diagnosed first with aphasia and then with frontotemporal dementia – a diagnosis that effectively put an end to his career in Hollywood – and his daughter Tallulah said that even his family may have missed some of the early warning signs of his condition.
Willis, 29, is the youngest of the three daughters shared by ex-spouses Bruce Willis and actress Demi Moore – and she told Vogue Magazine that even before her father was officially diagnosed, she had known for quite some time that something was not quite right.
“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,'” she wrote, adding that the unresponsiveness she had noticed only increased over time — and she sometimes took that as a personal slight due to their changing and growing family.
“He had had two babies with my stepmother, Emma Heming Willis, and I thought he’d lost interest in me,” she explained. “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.'”
Willis went on to describe her own battle with anorexia nervosa, explaining that even if she knew something was not right with her dad, she was in no way equipped to help or even consciously acknowledge it because of how sick she was, weighing just 84 pounds at one point.
“While I was wrapped up in my body dysmorphia, flaunting it on Instagram, my dad was quietly struggling. All kinds of cognitive testing was being conducted, but we didn’t have an acronym yet,” she said, adding, “I remember a moment when it hit me painfully: I was at a wedding in the summer of 2021 on Martha’s Vineyard, and the bride’s father made a moving speech. Suddenly I realized that I would never get that moment, my dad speaking about me in adulthood at my wedding. It was devastating. I left the dinner table, stepped outside, and wept in the bushes.”
It was another year before she could fully address her own illness – and then she began to wonder whether it would have been allowed to progress so far if her father had not been “quietly struggling” with his own developing illness.
“What if my dad had been his full self and saw me at that size? What would he have done? I’d like to think that he wouldn’t have let it happen,” she mused. “Maybe he’s a stereotypical father of a certain generation in that way, a doer who, if he had understood, might have scooped me up and said, ‘This is ending now.’ His style has always been to plug the leak even if he’s not sure why the leak is happening. Certainly there are benefits to examination, but there’s a beauty in his way, and I don’t think I noticed it until he was no longer capable of it.”