Bruce Willis is not alone: Other celebrities diagnosed with aphasia
The family of Bruce Willis announced Wednesday that the actor has been diagnosed with aphasia, a neurological condition that affects a person’s ability to understand and communicate with others.
As a result, the “Sixth Sense” and “Die Hard” star is “stepping away” from acting, his loved ones said in a heartfelt statement. According to the National Aphasia Assn., the condition is an acquired communication disorder that impairs the ability to process language, but does not affect intelligence.
“This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support,” the Willis family said Wednesday.
“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. As Bruce always says, ‘Live it up’ and together we plan to do just that.”
‘Die Hard’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ actor Bruce Willis ends his acting career after being diagnosed with aphasia, his family announces.
In his aphasia battle, Willis is not alone. Several entertainers have previously spoken about their experiences with the disorder, which is commonly seen in stroke victims.
Below are other actors and musicians who have experienced aphasia.
In 2011, country-pop singer and guitarist Campbell announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, telling People magazine that he still loved making music and performing.
In an August 2017 interview with USA Today, Campbell’s wife, Kimberly Woolen, said the musician was also battling aphasia and had lost most of his language, as well as his ability to comprehend words. Sometimes he tried to sing and succeeded in making sounds.
“But he still has his essence,” she said.
Campbell died that month at age 81.
After suffering a stroke in 2004, entertainment icon Clark had to relearn how to walk and talk. Symptoms of the stroke included slurred, slowed speech and partial paralysis, but Clark “refused to quit,” said Dr. Larry Goldstein, a professor of medicine and director of the stroke center at Duke University and spokesman for the American Stroke Assn.
“I watched him year by year on the [‘New Year’s Rockin’ Eve’] countdown show, and I could see small but steady improvement year after year,” Goldstein told The Times in 2012.
“That’s important to patients who wonder if they are going to recover, or wonder whether all the therapy and hard work is worth it. Recovery comes in degrees, and he showed that.”
Clark died in 2012 at age 82.
In 2019, “Game of Thrones” star Clarke revealed she had suffered two life-threatening brain aneurysms. After filming the first season of the hit fantasy series, the actor became “violently, voluminously ill” and felt “shooting, stabbing, constricting pain” in her head that landed her in an English hospital.
At age 24, she underwent surgery to seal off the aneurysm. She also experienced aphasia and at her “worst moments,” wanted to die at the hospital.
“Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke revealed on Thursday that she suffered from two life-threatening brain aneurysms that have prompted her to launch SameYou, a charity to advocate for stroke and brain-injury patients.
By March 2019, the Emmy nominee had fully recovered.
“I know from personal experience that the impact of brain injury is shattering,” Clarke said in a statement for her brain-injury charity SameYou.
“Recovery is long term, and rehabilitation can be difficult to access. Brain injury can be an invisible illness, and the subject is often taboo. We must help young adults take control of their recovery and allow them to open up without fear of stigma or shame.”
In 1996, screen legend Douglas suffered a stroke that impaired his speech. The Oscar-nominated actor was vocal about how the event affected him emotionally, telling The Times in 1999 that he “would pull down the blinds, crawl into bed and cry” while experiencing depression.
He later played a stroke survivor in the 1999 comedy-adventure “Diamonds” and appeared in a few other movie and TV projects before his death in 2020 at age 103.
“After a stroke, I made two films with impaired speech,” Douglas wrote in his 2002 memoir “My Stroke of Luck.”
“Now I am waiting for another part to play before the sun sinks below the horizon. You can’t stop an actor.”
According to the National Aphasia Assn., Douglas once said he “learned that we take too many things for granted in this world — even speech.”
“When you have a stroke your mind thinks quickly but your speech reacts very slowly,” he continued.
“You have to learn how to use your tongue, your lips, your teeth. ... Of course, I do my speech exercises every day. When I asked my speech therapist how long would I have to do my exercises, her answer was, ‘Until you die.’”
Before dying of congestive heart failure in 2013 at age 87, Broadway star Harris suffered two strokes: in 2001 and 2010.
According to the National Aphasia Assn., the Tony winner initially treated her stroke-induced aphasia with speech therapy, and the American Stroke Assn. reported that the treatment helped improve her vocabulary but not her fluency.
Through the University of Michigan Aphasia Program, Harris found new ways to live with the condition and converse with others after enrolling in 23 hours of speech therapy per week for six weeks, the National Aphasia Assn. states.
Right before Jones was set to receive a special award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 2010 for his contributions to film and TV, a representative for the Monty Python star revealed he had “been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a variant of frontotemporal dementia.”
“This illness affects his ability to communicate and he is no longer able to give interviews,” the statement continued. “Terry is proud and honoured to be recognised in this way and is looking forward to the celebrations.”
Jones died in January 2020 at his home in London. He was 77.
Shortly after completing her first day of production on the 1966 drama “Seven Women,” actor Neal suffered three consecutive strokes while pregnant with her fifth child.
When she awoke from a coma, the Oscar winner was partially blind and paralyzed on the right side of her body. She could not speak or remember anything.
Three months later, Neal had recovered somewhat from the paralysis and was able to joke with reporters about her difficulty speaking.
In a 2016 essay for the Guardian, a doctor and friend of Neal’s husband — the late author Roald Dahl — said the performer “struggled with the names of objects and people” and “invented new” words to communicate.
This innovative way of speaking eventually influenced the titular character in Dahl’s classic novel “The BFG.” In the book, the Big Friendly Giant explains, “I cannot be helping it if I sometimes is saying things a little squiggly … Words is oh such a twitch tickling problem to me all my life.”
In 2010, Neal died of lung cancer at her home in Massachusetts. She was 84.
In 2001, actor Stone suffered a stroke she once described to The Times as a “massive nine-day brain bleed.” Afterward, she said, “learning to read and write again ... was a humbling experience.”
According to the National Aphasia Assn., the 64-year-old “Basic Instinct” star also experienced speech impediments, including a stutter and aphasia, as a result of the aneurysm.
“There’s nothing like hearing Steven Soderbergh say, ‘There’s a job for you and it’s actually for you,’” says Sharon Stone as she settles into a sofa.
“I became more emotionally intelligent” after the stroke, Stone told Harper’s Bazaar in 2015.
“I chose to work very hard to open up other parts of my mind. Now I’m stronger. And I can be abrasively direct. That scares people, but I think that’s not my problem. ... It’s like, I have brain damage; you’ll just have to deal with it.”
The medical event affected Stone’s acting career as well: “I took smaller parts and built up a body of work completely different from the thing I got stuck into by the part where I wasn’t taken seriously,” she told The Times in 2018. She has since used her platform to raise awareness for stroke victims.
While undergoing surgery for congestive heart failure, country singer Travis suffered a stroke at a Texas hospital in 2013. Four years later, the musician’s wife, Mary Davis Travis, told People magazine his memory was “as sharp as it ever was.”
“Everything’s up there,” she said. “It’s just the aphasia [loss of speech] and getting it out that’s the frustrating part.”
She spoke out again in 2021 at a virtual event for the Houston Aphasia Recovery Center, saying, that she and her husband had never heard the term aphasia before going to the first rehab hospital after his stroke.
The term is one “that people are not familiar with until they have to cross that road,” Mary Travis said, noting that a large majority of Americans don’t know what aphasia is or have never heard of it.
“That being interesting,” she said, “because it’s more common than Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, yet people aren’t familiar with it. There’s 800,000 strokes a year, and up to a third to 40% of those people are left with the aphasia.”
Times staff writer Nardine Saad contributed to this report.
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