Bruce Willis, the iconic actor known for his roles in action films, has faced a significant health battle in recent times. Last March, Willis announced his retirement from acting due to a diagnosis of aphasia. However, nearly a year later, he received a more specific diagnosis: frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
A Glimpse into Willis’s Life
Since his diagnosis, Willis’s family has been sharing updates about his life. They celebrated his 68th birthday earlier this year, where he was surrounded by loved ones, including his ex-wife, Demi Moore, their three children, and his current wife, Emma Heming Willis, and their two children. This celebration was a poignant reminder of the Hollywood legend’s enduring legacy.
Moonlighting on Hulu
This month, fans of Bruce Willis have a reason to rejoice as his late-1980s ABC series, Moonlighting, became available for streaming on Hulu. This show, which ran for five seasons, starred Willis alongside Cybill Shepherd and redefined the will-they-or-won’t-they couple dynamic on TV.
Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron expressed his eagerness to share the show with the world once more. He noted that getting the show onto Hulu took time, during which Bruce’s disease progressed. Caron shared, “The process [to get Moonlighting onto Hulu] has taken quite a while, and Bruce’s disease is a progressive disease. So I was able to communicate with him, before the disease rendered him as incommunicative as he is now, about hoping to get the show back in front of people.”
A Devastating Impact on Communication
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) has taken a toll on Bruce Willis’s ability to communicate. Caron compared it to "seeing life through a screen door," highlighting the barriers Willis faces daily. Although there are moments where Willis seems to recognize Caron, the disease has made him "not totally verbal." This devastating change is particularly poignant given Willis’s previous life, which was marked by a love for reading and a vibrant joie de vivre.
Caron added, “When you’re with him you know that he’s Bruce, and you’re grateful that he’s there, but the joie de vivre is gone.”
Support and Gratitude
Throughout Willis’s battle with FTD, Glenn Gordon Caron has maintained contact with the actor’s wife and three older children. The concern for Willis’s well-being arose initially when colleagues on the sets of his most recent films expressed worry about his health before the diagnosis.
Reflecting on his interactions with Willis, Caron emphasized, "The thing that makes [his disease] so mind-blowing is [that] if you’ve ever spent time with Bruce Willis, there is no one who had any more joie de vivre than he. He loved life and… just adored waking up every morning and trying to live life to its fullest.”
Bruce Willis’s journey with frontotemporal dementia is a poignant reminder of the fragility of life and the resilience of the human spirit. The iconic actor, who once brought life to action-packed roles, now faces a different kind of battle. The support of his family and friends, including Glenn Gordon Caron, remains a source of strength in these challenging times.
Bruce Willis ‘Not Totally Verbal’ Amid Dementia Battle, Says ‘Moonlighting’ Creator, and while his words may be limited, his legacy as a Hollywood legend endures.
Coping Strategies for Caregivers of Individuals with FTD
What is frontotemporal dementia?
Frontotemporal dementia encompasses a range of brain disorders specifically targeting the frontal and temporal lobes, which play pivotal roles in governing personality, behavior, and language. This condition is characterized by the gradual shrinkage (atrophy) of these brain regions, leading to a decline in these cognitive and linguistic functions.
How is Glenn Gordon Caron supporting Bruce Willis during his dementia battle?
Glenn Gordon Caron, the creator of ‘Moonlighting,’ maintains a supportive presence in Bruce Willis’s life amidst his battle with dementia. Caron’s dedication shines as he visits the ‘Die Hard’ star approximately once a month. During these visits, he perceives that, at least during the initial moments, Willis recognizes him. Caron revealed, “My sense is the first one to three minutes he knows who I am.” His commitment to maintaining this connection offers crucial emotional support to the Hollywood icon.
What are the early signs of aphasia and frontotemporal dementia?
Common early signs of aphasia and frontotemporal dementia encompass a range of behavioral and cognitive changes. These include:
- Behavior and Personality Changes: Notable shifts in behavior and personality, such as swearing, stealing, increased interest in sex, or a decline in personal hygiene habits.
- Social Inappropriateness: Displaying socially inappropriate, impulsive, or repetitive behaviors.
- Impaired Judgment: Difficulty in making sound decisions.
- Apathy: A marked lack of interest, enthusiasm, or motivation.
- Lack of Empathy: Reduced ability to understand and share others’ feelings.
- Decreased Self-Awareness: Diminished awareness of one’s own actions and behaviors.
What are the first signs of frontotemporal dementia?
In the early stages of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), the first signs typically manifest as:
- Unusual or Antisocial Behavior: Patients may exhibit behavior that is out of character, including antisocial actions.
- Loss of Speech or Language: A noticeable decline in speech and language abilities often becomes apparent.
As the disease progresses into later stages, additional symptoms may emerge, including:
- Movement Disorders: Patients may experience symptoms such as unsteadiness, rigidity, slowness, twitches, muscle weakness, or difficulty swallowing.
What is frontotemporal dementia and what causes it?
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), also known as frontotemporal degeneration, represents a cluster of disorders rooted in the progressive degeneration of nerve cells in two vital brain regions:
- Frontal Lobes: These areas reside behind your forehead and play a role in governing aspects of personality and behavior.
- Temporal Lobes: Situated behind your ears, these regions are associated with language and memory functions.
FTD is a condition marked by this nerve cell loss in the frontal and temporal lobes, leading to a variety of cognitive and behavioral changes.
How is frontotemporal dementia different from other dementia?
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) differs notably from other types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, in its initial presentation. FTD frequently commences with pronounced behavioral alterations, including social inappropriateness, apathy, impulsivity, and more. In contrast, individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease often exhibit social adeptness, even as they grapple with memory issues and may excel at concealing their cognitive challenges.