From the moment in 1985 that Moonlighting cast the glow of instant celebrity upon his balding head, Bruce Willis—previously anonymous as a Manhattan barkeep and struggling stage trouper—found his life crammed into one long scandal-sheet headline, BRUCE BATTLES CYBILL SHEPHERD…BRUCE GETS BUSTED AT LOUD PARTY…BRUCE RAKES IN SHOCKING $5 MILLION FORDIEHARD, $5-7 MILLION FROM SEAGRAMS, $10 MILLION FOR VOICE-OVERS IN LOOK WHO’S TALKING! But somewhere between BRUCE MARRIES DEMI MOORE (1987) and BRUCE BECOMES A DAD (1988), the searing public spotlight that fixed on his every private move appeared to be dimming. “Since I’ve been married, the tabloids have relaxed a little bit,” he said last year. He and Demi were “like this old married couple now. There’s not really a whole lot to say about us anymore.”

So much for wishful thinking. This summer, while Willis, 35, and Moore, 27, were racing up the box office charts with two of the year’s Top 5 grossing movies, her Ghost and his Die Hard 2, the couple learned—as every Hollywood power pair eventually does—that nothing dies harder than celebrity gossip. Spun out like reams of cotton candy, the rumor swirl of the moment says:

(A) Ghost has made her a prima donna and him envious;

(B) He wants her to quit working to care for 2-year-old daughter Rumer:

(C) They are jealous of each other’s co-stars, and

(D) They may be headed toward a split.

But good copy does not mean good intentions. Taking aim at what he called “lies” and “distorted things,” Willis declared on Entertainment Tonight in September, “I believe that there are a couple of these magazines trying to destroy my marriage.”

And that was before the latest tempest in a tabloid. Last week the National Enquirer claimed that Dutch-born actress Marushka Detmers was dropped from Willis’s current adventure film, Hudson Hawk, ostensibly on the orders of Moore, who heard that Detmers and Willis were becoming too friendly on location in Rome. The sultry Detmers, 27, who starred in the X-rated Italian film The Devil in the Flesh, refuses to comment on her relationship with Bruce, but says, “You can be sure that nothing that has been written up to now has had anything to do with the truth.” Her replacement, Andie MacDowell (sex, lies and videotape), also got tarred in the process. A photo from the set that ran in the British tabloid the Sunday Mirror was air-brushed so that she and Willis appeared to be sharing an intimate moment.

In Hollywood, getting bombarded with rumors is a sort of marital initiation rite. The more prominent the couple, the greater the target for gossip. Through their publicists, Bruce and Demi have stoutly denounced all the recent scuttlebutt as untruth. What is true, though, is that the two have been spending a lot of time apart because of their jobs, violating Willis’s stated house rule that ” ‘we don’t want to be working at the same time because that takes time from the bambino.”

After the couple worked together (a first) on the feature Mortal Thoughts last winter. Willis passed the late spring and early summer shooting Bonfire of the Vanities in New York City, then left the country for Hudson Hawk, which has now taken him to Budapest. Moore, much in demand now that Ghost has become the year’s highest-grossing film, spent her summer filming Dan Aykroyd’s comedy Valkenvania and is now making The Butcher’s Wife with Jeff Daniels.

While the long separations are an occupational hazard for any busy acting duo, they in no way portend a breakup, says one actress who used to pal around with Moore. “Demi adores him and wants more children with him,” she says, “and he adores her. This is the best match Demi has ever had. Bruce has been the first man she can thoroughly appreciate and respect.” But because they’re both headstrong, she speculates, they may create the impression that their marriage is volatile. “But if they fight,” she says, “they have a great time making up.”

That the two might form a combustible pairing is not surprising, considering their unruly single pasts. Once touted by the tabs as “America’s Most Eligible Bachelor,” Willis flaunted his prerogative, living for several years with free-lance writer Sherry Rivera (Geraldo’s third ex), then romancing actress Janet Jones (now wed to Wayne Gretzky) and Miami Vice star Olivia Brown. At the Improv, a favorite L.A. hangout. “Bruce would come on to every girl in the place,” a former club employee recalls, “even when he was supposedly with a date.”

Willis’s boldness was bolstered by alcohol. “Stoli, water, tall, with a twist, that was his drink,” says an ex-Improv waitress. “He’d get plastered, and then he’d make an ass out of himself.” Willis himself has admitted that his behavior was less than exemplary. “When I got hit with that first wave of success, it was like I was 16 with wealthy parents and I was given my first car. I did this town over, partied hard, and in many cases I wasn’t the nicest guy in the world.”” His fun spree culminated in May 1987, when he threw a raucous house party that blared for three days. By the end of it, Willis had been arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer. Charges were dropped when Willis agreed to apologize to the neighbors, but his reputation as a bad boy was etched in stone.

Later that year, Willis met Moore at a screening of Stakeout, featuring Demi’s former betrothed, actor Emilio Estevez. Moore was a high school dropout from Roswell, N.Mex., who had posed on the cover of the men’s magazine Out at age 17 and had landed a steady role in ABC’s General Hospital at 19. By the time she met Willis, Moore had already kicked her own drug and alcohol use, as well as her brief marriage in the early ’80s to rocker Freddy Moore. Demi had heard the dirt on Willis but has said she found him “just so ready to embrace and give me love.” Within weeks, the two were an item, and soon after. Willis’s boozing dried up. “I never needed to be that guy around her,” he has said. “Never wanted to.” They married in Las Vegas on Nov. 21, 1987.

Baby Rumer—named for British fiction writer Rumer (Black Narcissus) Godden—born in August 1988, was another important calming influence. “Bruce helped pull this baby out of me,” Demi said recently. “He was there with his hands…. He’s as passionate and as excited and as driven with being a father as he is with anything else that he does.” Echoing his wife, Willis has said, “I’m a big fan of kids. I tell everybody they should have them.”

For all the whispers to the contrary, the couple’s words of bliss appear to be more than empty happy talk. “There’s such a great family feeling between them,” says McKinley Kirby, a friend of Moore”s and a witness at her wedding to Willis. “It’s very intense to see them juggle careers and handle success and still have a nice family life.”

Reports from the sets of their recent movies confirm those impressions of them together. “Every time she would be on a break, he’d give her a kiss,” remembers Rosanne Pona, a high school nurse whose parents, Connie and Joe, lent their home as a set for the filming of Mortal Thoughts early this year in Bayonne, N.J. And last month, on location on Bald Head Island, a resort in North Carolina-after the supposed Marushka Detmers incident—Moore seemed ” ‘very happy, very content,” says Bald Head food and beverage director Rick Frankel. who chatted with the actress on several occasions. “She likes taking care of the baby.” Meanwhile renovations are continuing on the $8 million Manhattan triplex that the Willises bought last spring, in addition to their Malibu beach house, “it’s a family apartment,” says Realtor Linda Stein, who sold them the place.

But even if the marriage is stable now, grapevine chatter can sometimes choke a relationship. Pat Kingsley, a power publicist whose clients include Sally Field and Al Pacino, calls gossip “a fact of life for stars. If the tabloids keep playing a story along, eventually they might be able to say the rumors were true. What’s the divorce rate in this country? Around 50 percent? So they have a 50 percent chance of being right.’ ” Kingsley says she advises clients to “ignore gossip as much as possible. But some of them never get used to it, and it’s very hurtful to them, particularly those with young children.”

Celebrity lawyer Marvin Mitchelson, who regularly deals with the fallout of rumor-spurred divorces, puts it bluntly: “When people in the social scene start to gossip, it can destroy a marriage faster than a fire can race through dry timber. It probably wouldn’t destroy a marriage that’s pretty solid. But many marriages are shaky, and it doesn’t take much to topple them over.” Willis himself has noted, “I think a lot of that stuff went a long way toward destroying Sean [Penn] and Madonna‘s marriage. They never let them alone.”

Willis, of course, is determined to shield his wife and child from any hurtful talk. “I tell you, I’ve been blessed by God that I met Demi,” he has said. “I was a cynic myself. I wasn’t looking for the kind of love I found with her. What we have for each other is a very rare thing.” If they can make it last, it will be rarer still.

—Jeannie Park, Tom Cunneff and Robin Micheli in Los Angeles, Sabrina McFarland in New York City, Cathy Nolan in Paris, Logan Bentley in Rome and Katy Kelly on Bald Head Island, N.C.

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