Tallulah Willis opened up about her father Bruce Willis’ dementia, sharing how she struggled to stay present with her family during the early stages of his diagnosis.
In February, the Willis family announced that Bruce had been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a rare disease that will greatly affect the actor’s quality of life. The news came nearly a year after his family said the Die Hard actor would be “stepping away” from his career after being diagnosed with “aphasia,” which had been “impacting his cognitive abilities.”
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In a first-person essay for Vogue, Willis wrote how she’s “known that something was wrong for a long time.”
“It started out with a kind of vague unresponsiveness, which the family chalked up to Hollywood hearing loss: ‘Speak up! Die Hard messed with Dad’s ears,’” Willis penned. “Later that unresponsiveness broadened, and I sometimes took it personally.”
She continued, “He had had two babies with my stepmother, Emma Heming Willis, and I thought he’d lost interest in me. Though this couldn’t have been further from the truth, my adolescent brain tortured itself with some faulty math: I’m not beautiful enough for my mother, I’m not interesting enough for my father.”
Willis, the youngest of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore’s three daughters, said she struggled to accept Bruce’s worsening condition due to her four-year battle with anorexia nervosa, and an ADHD diagnosis.
“I admit that I have met Bruce’s decline in recent years with a share of avoidance and denial that I’m not proud of,” Willis said. “The truth is that I was too sick myself to handle it… While I was wrapped up in my body dysmorphia, flaunting it on Instagram, my dad was quietly struggling.”
In the summer of 2021, she was forced to confront the reality of her father’s illness during a wedding on Martha’s Vineyard when the bride’s father gave a speech.
“Suddenly I realized that I would never get that moment, my dad speaking about me in adulthood at my wedding. It was devastating,” she remembered. “I left the dinner table, stepped outside, and wept in the bushes.”
Willis, who is in recovery from her eating disorder, said she’s able to navigate her relationship with her father from a healthier perspective.
“I now have the tools to be present in all facets of my life, and especially in my relationship with my dad,” said Willis. “I can bring him an energy that’s bright and sunny, no matter where I’ve been. In the past I was so afraid of being destroyed by sadness, but finally I feel that I can show up and be relied upon.”
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