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Bruce Willis stepping away from acting after aphasia diagnosis

The family of Bruce Willis announced on March 30 that the actor was diagnosed with aphasia and that he will no longer be acting. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images/The Washington Post)
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Bruce Willis is stepping away from acting after being diagnosed with the language disorder aphasia, his family announced Wednesday.

Aphasia is classified as an “acquired neurogenic language disorder” that often occurs after a stroke or a brain injury, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, affecting the comprehension and expression of written and spoken language. While speech and language therapy can help those suffering from aphasia recover their language skills, it is “usually a relatively slow process,” and although “most people make significant progress, few people regain full pre-injury communication levels.”

It is unclear what brought on Willis’s aphasia or whether the “Die Hard” actor is suffering from any other impairments.

“This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support. We are moving through this as a strong family unit, and wanted to bring his fans in because we know how much he means to you, as you do to him,” read the statement, which was posted to Instagram by his daughter Rumer and was signed by his wife, Emma Heming; ex-wife, Demi Moore; and his other four children.

“As Bruce always says, ‘Live it up’ and together we plan to do just that,” it concluded.

Willis, 67, was born in West Germany, where his father, an American soldier, was stationed. His family moved to New Jersey two years later. He began his acting career in off-Broadway productions in the 1970s before receiving a small, uncredited role in 1982’s “The Verdict,” starring Paul Newman and Charlotte Rampling. His breakout came in 1985, when he was cast as David Addison Jr. in “Moonlighting,” and his career as a movie star launched when he became the unlikely action hero John McClane in 1988’s “Die Hard.”

Throughout his career, he has tended to appear in action, sci-fi or horror films, including four more Die Hard installments; “12 Monkeys” with Brad Pitt; several M. Night Shyamalan movies, most notably “The Sixth Sense”; and a number of Quentin Tarantino films, such as “Pulp Fiction.” More recently, Willis has been on a run of appearing in action B-movies — most of them produced by Emmett/Furla Oasis Films, producer Randall Emmett’s direct-to-video movie empire.

As news of his forced retirement broke, celebrities and public figures offered their condolences and shared stories about the actor.

TV writer Heather Anne Campbell tweeted: “i met bruce willis once, ten years ago. an agency was trying to get me to sign with their company and they asked me what I wanted to do and I said ‘write an action movie for bruce willis’ so they said ‘do you want to meet him?’ and brought me to his birthday party that night. … the party was about 15 people in a private bar, and bruce willis pretended he knew me already. he said ‘oh yeah, from the thing with the thing,’ and then started yelling the bartender’s name to say ‘look who’s here, it’s heather.”

Film critic Robert Daniels tweeted: “When Bruce Willis was on it, there were few who were better. An under appreciated dramatic force, an unlikely comedic presence, a sterling leading man. He could do anything and did everything in the movies. I’m going to miss seeing him on the silver screen.”

Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who also suffers from aphasia, wrote that the disorder “makes it hard for me to find the right words. It can be lonely and isolating. ... To everyone living with aphasia, I’m here for you. We got this.”

“I have so much love for Bruce Willis, and am grateful for every character he’s given us. Hugs and love for the whole family- thank you for sharing him with us all,” tweeted Seth Green.

“So much love, light, prayers, and strength to Bruce Willis, his wife, children, @justdemi and their entire family during this time,” tweeted Meghan McCain. “Have faith, there is hope and incredible geniuses at Mayo Clinic and NIH who work in neurology & study brains. Breakthroughs truly happen every day.”

“Sending encouragement to Bruce Willis and his family,” tweeted author and pastor John Pavlovitz. “It’s all so fragile.”