Willis' roller coaster is on top again

THE BALTIMORE SUN

"Way to go, Bruce!" a man shouted, standing at his New York movie theater seat, his fist thrust into the the air following a preview of "Die Hard With a Vengeance."

"Yeah, I heard that," Mr. Willis, who was in the audience, said during an interview.

Mr. Willis, back with original "Die Hard" director John McTiernan, has been depicted as not unlike the dyspeptic policeman, John McClane, he plays in the three "Die Hard" movies: cranky, obnoxious and aloof. But on this day, Mr. Willis is laid-back. And why shouldn't he be? Consider:

* He has, since 1988, been in movies that have grossed more than $1.3 billion worldwide.

* He collected a $15 million paycheck for "Die Hard with a Vengeance," the Twentieth Century Fox release that opened Friday, in which he stars with "Pulp Fiction" co-star and Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson as his sidekick and Oscar winner Jeremy Irons as McClane's nemesis.

* He received rave reviews as the world's luckiest boxer in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" (and pocketed a percentage of its $100 million gross after working on the film for scale -- $1,685 a week) and for "Nobody's Fool" in an uncredited role opposite Paul Newman.

* He is married to Demi Moore, Hollywood's highest-paid actress ($12.5 million to play an exotic dancer in the coming "Striptease").

* He recently wrapped the futuristic virus thriller, "Twelve Monkeys," co-starring Brad Pitt and Madeleine Stowe, directed by Terry Gilliam and filmed in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

* With Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, he owns and has opened -- playing harmonica with a rhythm and blues band -- 19 successful Planet Hollywood theme restaurants.

* And can it be? He is media darling du jour with cover stories this month in Esquire and Entertainment Weekly magazines and a major piece in the New York Times Magazine (right alongside articles on Nelson Mandela, Thomas Edison and the NBA).

Is there any downside to Mr. Willis' life?

"I have a houseful of women. I think God's paying me back for something. I don't know what it is," he joked. ". . . I don't win many arguments around the house," Mr. Willis grinned.

Mr. Willis, 40, and Ms. Moore have three daughters, Rumer Glenn, 7; Scout Larue, 4, and Tallulah Belle, 1 1/2 .

Mr. Willis grew up in Carneys Point, N.J., across the Delaware River from Wilmington, Del., and dropped out of Montclair State University after deciding to become an actor. He was a bartender in New York until his breakthrough theater role in Sam Shepard's "Fool for Love" in 1984. Mr. Willis then was chosen from 3,000 contenders to play David Addison opposite Cybill Shepherd on television's "Moonlighting" (1985-'89 on ABC-TV) for which he won Emmy and Golden Globe awards.

His roller coaster career has included movies boom and bust ("Die Hard" in 1988 went boom, preceded by "Blind Date" and "Sunset," which generally went bust; 1990's "Die Hard 2" went boom as that summer's No. 2 hit, while "Bonfire of the Vanities" went bust), and all-night partying until he settled down (he and Ms. Moore were married in 1987) and quit drinking (eight years now). He's attempted to balance small films ("Mortal Thoughts," with Moore; "North") with blockbusters like the "Die Hard" series.

Has marriage been difficult?

"Yeah, it's hard. People say, 'Oh, you have this storybook marriage.' I don't have a storybook marriage. We argue and we fight about things and we kiss and make up.

"I say it's like a little garden that you have to tend all the time. It's not like you get married and everything just grows on its own. You have to work on it."

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