Bruce Willis — born March 19th, 1955 — started out as a minor off-Broadway actor but eventually landed the lead in Die Hard, launching his now legendary action-hero career. He seemed attracted to the role of individualist hero, and it was a role he took up in several films of libertarian interest.
Willis is probably best known for his role as John McClane, a classic American hero standing alone against all odds for what is right in the 1988 blockbuster Die Hard. Working against him are his chief adversary, Hans Gruber — a poised, organized, “classically-educated” gentleman thief; various incompetent, overbearing representatives of organized law enforcement; and a self-serving journalist. This is a film that pits the ordinary guy — who still values, respects, and at his best embodies heroic individualism — against an array of smug elites, who, whether operating for good or evil, despise him and what he represents. It’s an absolute must-see. As one reviewer put it, “Die Hard is the very pinnacle of the ’80s action movie, and if it’s not the greatest action movie ever made, then it’s damn close.”
Ten years later in 1998, Bruce Willis made Mercury Rising. In this story, the U.S. government has just spent two billion dollars to produce an “unbreakable” communications code. The code is a key part of the country’s spy apparatus. As part of the testing of the code, a secret message written in it was distributed in puzzle magazines with the promise of a prize to anyone who could decrypt the message. It wasn’t actually expected that anyone would be able to do so, as the code had already been tested under the most rigorous conditions. Enter a nine-year-old autistic savant. He breaks the code and calls in for the prize. This high-tech code is considered so important to U.S. security that the NSA sends assassins to kill the boy. But they’ll have to get past Bruce Willis, who is again the individualist hero working against officialdom, this time as a renegade FBI agent who defies all authority to protect this peculiarly-gifted child. Should the one be sacrificed for the benefit of the many? That’s the underlying question in this feel-good action/drama.
In 2018, Willis made a remake of the classic Charles Bronson film Death Wish, about a man whose wife is killed and daughter severely beaten by thugs. The broken US justice system has nothing to offer him in the way of justice or resolution. So he turns vigilante, a lone good guy taking out bad guys one by one. One reviewer complained “If the NRA made a feature film, it would be this.”
In 2019, the film Motherless Brooklyn was made in which a corrupt cabal behind New York City’s urban development will let nothing get in its way…in the name of “progress.” Willis plays a detective killed off early in the film, but it’s notable that he took the role. The Independent Institute called the film “a well-told story that sheds light on a dark part of U.S. urban policy. The movie might well contend for the most pro-liberty film to come out of Hollywood in 2019.”
Bruce Willis doesn’t seem to have explicitly identified as libertarian — he supported a variety of politicians, from Democrat Michael Dukakis to Republican George Bush — but in a 2006 interview where a journalist tried to get Willis to defend his endorsement of the Bush administration, Willis shot back with “I’m sick of answering this fucking question. I’m a Republican only as far as I want a smaller government, I want less government intrusion. I want them to stop shitting on my money and your money and tax dollars that we give 50 percent of every year. I want them to be fiscally responsible and I want these goddamn lobbyists out of Washington. Do that and I’ll say I’m a Republican. I hate the government, OK? I’m apolitical. Write that down. I’m not a Republican.” So it’s fair to say his heart is in the right place.
In later performances, Willis seemed to be losing his edge and was often confused. The cause was eventually diagnosed as asphasia, a brain disease that affects speech and comprehension, and in 2022 he retired. His career may be over, but his characters live on. Personally, I like a visit from John McClane every Christmas, as it turns out many people do.