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Bruce Willis ‘Not Totally Verbal’ Amid Dementia Battle, Says ‘Moonlighting’ Creator

It was announced by his family last March that Bruce Willis would retire from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia. Nearly a year later he received a more specific diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Since then, Willis’s family members have shared updates about his life, including the celebration of his 68th birthday earlier this year alongside Demi Moore, his ex-wife, and their three children, Scout, Rumer, and Tallulah; and his current wife, Emma Heming Willis, and their two children, Mabel and Evelyn.

This month, Willis’s late-1980s ABC series Moonlighting became available to stream on Hulu. For five seasons, Willis and Cybill Shepherd revolutionized the will-they-or-won’t-they couple on TV—and the actor was eager for the world to see the show again on streaming, according to Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron. “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,” Caron recently told the New York Post. “I know it means a lot to him.”

Caron said that he has kept in contact with Willis’s wife and three older children since colleagues on the sets of the actor’s most recent films expressed concern about his welfare prior to diagnosis. “I have tried very hard to stay in his life,” Caron said, adding, “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.”

Caron said that FTD has rendered Willis largely unable to communicate, sharing that it’s as if “he now sees life through a screen door.” But he believes Willis is still able to recognize him. “My sense is the first one to three minutes he knows who I am,” he said. “He’s not totally verbal; he used to be a voracious reader—he didn’t want anyone to know that—and he’s not reading now. All those language skills are no longer available to him, and yet he’s still Bruce.” The creator 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.”

Heming Willis, who has been married to the actor since 2009, offered her own update to Today last month during World Frontotemporal Dementia Awareness week. She explained that while Willis’s condition is “hard on the family,” there are still “so many beautiful things happening in our lives. It’s just really important for me to look up from the grief and the sadness so that I can see what is happening around us. Bruce would really want us to be in the joy of what is. He would really want that for me and our family.”

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