Although Bruce Willis’ family has been public about his health issues and dementia diagnosis for some time, his adult daughters with ex-wife, Demi Moore, have kept their feelings mostly private. In a new essay that will absolutely break your heart, Tallulah Willis opens up about her devastating fatherhood diagnosis and gives us an intimate look at the pain that ensues.
In March 2022, Bruce Willis, his wife Emma Hemming Willis, Moore, and all three of his adult daughters shared that he was retiring from acting after receiving a diagnosis of aphasia. Aphasia affects a person’s ability to express and understand written and spoken language. In February of this year, the Willis family revealed that Bruce had been formally diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia.
In the emotional essay written for Vogue, Tallulah opens up about what it’s like to watch her father struggle and how it affects her as her own daughter. (Willis is also father to Mabel, 11, and Evelyn, 9, with wife Emma.)
It started with a sort of vague unresponsiveness, which the family attributed to Hollywood hearing loss: Speak up! Die Hard messed up with daddy’s ears. she wrote. Subsequently that lack of response escalated and I sometimes took it personally. She had had two children with my stepmother, Emma Heming Willis, and I thought she had lost interest in me.
She acknowledges knowing that was far from the truth, but her own insecurities and mental health issues made it hard to see for a long time. He admits to denying his father’s declining health due to his issues, including an eating disorder and an ADHD diagnosis.
Throughout it all, she wrote, my father was struggling silently.
All kinds of cognitive tests were being conducted, but we didn’t have an acronym yet, he says. I had managed to give my central canal of daddy sensation an epidural; the good feelings really weren’t there, the bad feelings really weren’t there.
While attending a wedding in the summer of 2021, Tallulah says she was “painfully” struck that her father’s health was, in fact, deteriorating, after hearing the father of the bride deliver his speech.
I suddenly realized I would never have that moment, my father talking about me as an adult at my wedding. It was devastating, he writes. I left the dining table, went outside and cried in the bushes.
Now that she’s recovered from her eating disorder and is taking care of herself, she says she’s equipped to be present in her life and in her relationship with Bruce.
I can savor that moment, hold my father’s hand and feel that it’s wonderful. I know trials loom, that this is the beginning of pain, but this whole thing about loving yourself before you can love someone else is real, he explains.
Now when she visits her father, she documents his home and life by taking many photos and saving voicemails and other mementos to her hard drive.
I find I’m trying to document, to build a record for the day he’s not there to remind me of him and us, he shares. These days, my father can easily be found on the first floor of the house, somewhere in the large open space of the kitchen-dining-living room, or in his office.
Her dementia hasn’t yet affected her mobility, and she says she still remembers who is a differentiator between early frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. She says she “lights up” every time she sees her.
She shares that it wasn’t easy growing up as the daughter of two very famous celebrities, but now that she’s older and recovering, things have improved dramatically. Especially since her older sister, Rumer, welcomed the family’s first niece and niece, Louetta, in April.
“There’s this little creature that changes by the hour, and there’s this thing that happens with my dad that can change so quickly and so unpredictably,” he concludes. “It feels like a unique and special time in my family, and I’m so happy to be here for it.”
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