Bruce Willis’ Aphasia Diagnosis Won’t Be the First Communication Challenge He Faces

Bruce Willis is one of the most recognizable actors of his generation. After getting his start on TV, Willis caught his big break on the big screen with Die Hard (and almost died in the process of making it). He went on to star in acclaimed movies such as Pulp Fiction and The Sixth Sense. However, Willis’ aphasia diagnosis has led him to step away from acting.

Aphasia impacts a person’s ability to speak, write, or understand language. Treatment to regain any lost communication abilities won’t be easy, but this also won’t be the first time Willis faces a communication challenge.

Bruce Willis, who stepped back from acting after an aphasia diagnosis in 2022, appears at the 2019 UK premier of 'Glass.'
Bruce Willis | Karwai Tang/Getty Images

Willis overcame a stutter as a child

Willis has played plenty of tough guys on screen, but he sustained a fair amount of bullying because of his stutter as a child, as The Hollywood Reporter notes. He started stuttering around six years old, but he had no idea how to stop. Then came a series of miracles that helped him overcome his challenge.

First, Willis started acting in school and in the community and learned he could better control his stutter on stage. Then, he received clinical help from speech therapists while attending Montclair State University. 

Still, speaking with a stutter and enduring abuse from peers was a massive childhood challenge for Willis, per THR.

“The hardest thing I remember was being a kid stuttering. My advice to the people in this room is never [to] let anyone make you feel like an outcast because you will never be an outcast. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Bruce Willis

Acting helped Willis overcome his stutter on his way to a decades-long career as one of the top-grossing actors in Hollywood. Other screen icons have forged a similar path.

Willis isn’t the only famous actor who stuttered as a child 

Willis, who turned 67 in 2022, overcame his childhood stutter through acting. He’s not the only one.

Emily Blunt spoke in accents as a child in order to hide her stutter. When a teacher overheard her, he asked her to try out for a school play, according to The Washington Post

James Earl Jones has one of the most famous voices of all time, but his childhood stutter was so bad he barely spoke at all, per The Post. Willis’ Die Hard With a Vengeance co-star Samuel L. Jackson turned to one particular swear word to help keep his stutter at bay, and Marilyn Monroe took abuse from a director over her persistent stutter.

Learning to speak without a stutter is one thing, but learning how to communicate presents a new challenge for Willis. 

What is aphasia, and how is it treated?

Aphasia robs a person of their ability to speak, write, or understand language (written or verbal). Per Mayo Clinic, it typically occurs suddenly following a stroke or brain injury, though slow-growing tumors can also cause the condition. When Willis’ family released a statement via Instagram revealing his diagnosis, it did not indicate the cause.

The severity of the aphasia depends on the condition causing it and the extent of the damage to the brain.

Treatments can include speech and language rehabilitation therapy while also teaching how to make up for lost language skills or finding new ways to communicate, according to Mayo Clinic.

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