Dreams Die Hard
It was common knowledge in Farmington, N.Mex., that Demi Moore and her husband, Bruce Willis, were in town for a sad reason. Suffering from terminal cancer, Moore’s mother, Virginia Guynes, 53, had come here to live with a sister, Carolyn Sneed. “She’s not doing well at all,” says one neighbor. Moore, who had long been estranged from her mother but made peace with her in the past year, arrived seven weeks ago with her three young daughters in tow. Then, on June 24, Moore’s publicist announced that she and Willis were separating after more than 10 years of high-profile marriage—victims, say friends and associates, of too much time spent apart, the common Hollywood disease.
The demise came as a surprise to local golf pro Chris Arand, who had spent time on the links with Willis on June 20. Between slicing (and losing) balls along Farmington’s Pinon Hills public course, Willis took at least three calls that Arand believes were from Moore. The conversations, he says, sounded “real lovey- dovey.”
Cell-phone cooings to the contrary, love appears to have been in short supply of late between the globe-trotting stars. Romance was about the only ingredient of modest proportions in a complicated life—populated by bodyguards, handlers and lawyers and furnished with scattered real estate and jets—that acquaintances say left little room for the day-to-day intimacy of average marriages. When the couple came to visit her mom, who has led a troubled life of alcohol abuse, they arrived in Farmington by private Gulfstream jet. When Moore stopped in a local antiques consignment shop, the Dusty Attic, “she bought tons and tons of glassware from the ’50s,” a fellow shopper says. “Someone brought in all these vintage mink stoles, and she bought every one of them. She said she was buying gifts.”
Willis, 43, helped look after the girls—Rumer, 9, Scout, 6, and Tallulah, 4—whom the couple tried to keep entertained as best they could, frequently running to Wal-Mart to buy them toys. But having to camp out at a local hotel was “really hard on them,” Moore, 35, told a friend by phone not long ago. “All they could do was go to the pool.” The weekend of June 20, for a change of pace, the pair took the children to a skating rink. That day, says one observer, “Bruce and Demi seemed like a normal couple, skating around and laughing with their kids.” One difference: The couple had rented out the rink for their family and a few friends.
But then Willis and Moore have never gone in for doing things by halves. Their impending divorce—no papers have yet been filed—would write The End to a Hollywood power marriage ’90s-style, less Liz and Dick than Cleopatra and Mark Antony as produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.
When filming G.I. Jane two years ago in Richmond, Va., Moore rented a mansion and installed a support staff of three nannies, cook, trainer, makeup artist, hairdresser and personal assistant. Her entourage was so large that two planes were required to take her to publicity appearances. “It’s a joke,” says a producer who has worked with her. “A jet for a star, that’s enough of a perk. For her, two.” She has so many dolls in her collection that they’re kept in their own full-size Victorian house.
With his cigars and his stubble, Willis seems the more laid-back personality. “He’s real personable and doesn’t give off any attitude,” says golfer Arand. But the actor, who earns roughly $20 million a film, also relishes his role as a latter-day Daddy Warbucks.
Having installed the family in a $5 million estate on 48 acres in Hailey, Willis during the past 11 years proceeded to pour more than $7 million into the small Idaho town of 6,000, transforming it into something like a personal municipal playground. He opened a diner, Shorty’s, and a nightclub called the Mint (where Willis, who in the ’80s released two rock albums of his own, liked to pop in and play deejay). He renovated some buildings on Main Street and named a building after his grandfather E.G. Willis. Bruce’s Idaho investments total some $20 million. He also paid a reported $1 million for a stretch of real estate along the Delaware River near his New Jersey hometown with a vision of developing a $50 million marina, restaurants and a park.
But the flash-and-cash lifestyle always seemed too frenetic to last, and the couple’s relationship—even with the gradual addition of three darling daughters—has endured rumors of rockiness almost since the day they wed in Las Vegas in November 1987, just four months after meeting at a movie screening in Los Angeles. Moore has spoken with Nixonian fatalism of the media’s fixation on the precarious state of her union. “They won’t stop until one day they may be right,” she told Vanity Fair in 1993. Yet there she was, solo at this year’s Oscars, sparking fresh speculation by dancing with a younger man at a studio party. (“We started dancing to stay warm,” she yelled to Michael Caine, her costar in 1984’s Blame It on Rio.) As for Willis, the actor has often referred to fidelity with the not altogether reassuring tone of a former party boy who has now sown his oats but can’t forget how much he enjoyed open pasture. “What is marriage,” he told Playboy in 1996. “No woman is going to satisfy a man’s natural impulse to procreate, procreate, procreate.”
Moore became Hollywood’s hottest female star when she commanded $12.5 million for 1996’s Striptease, which bombed at the box office. But the actress, who twice put her naked body on the cover of Vanity Fair, is now suffering a slump all too typical of sexy actresses slouching toward 40. Recently one friend visiting the couple’s Hailey home was startled to encounter Liv Tyler, 21, who plays Willis’s daughter in the new (Bruckheimer-produced) action extravaganza Armageddon (see review, page 31). Moore, her vanity apparently pricked, did not appear to relish sharing her home with the younger, hotter star, whom her husband had flown in on their jet. “Demi could barely function,” says the friend. “It was like, ‘How dare you bring her here!’ ”
And, of course, for Willis, who suffered setbacks with recent box office disappointments (Mercury Rising, The Jackal), the separation announcement threatened its own meteor shower of bad publicity on the eve of the opening of Armageddon, at $140 million the most expensive film ever made by Disney. Having decided to bow out of the June 29 gala premiere at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, Willis suddenly changed his mind, his second flip-flop in a fortnight: After nonchalantly suggesting in an interview with George magazine that he saw nothing wrong with black support for the controversial separatist Louis Farrakhan, the superstar retracted the comment following a furor in the press.
Even before their separation, the couple had kept their lawyers busy. Willis and Moore are currently ensnared in a messy, highly publicized $300,000 lawsuit against former nanny Kim Tannahill, who they claim reneged on personal loans and violated a confidentiality agreement. Tannahill in turn is suing for $900,000 in damages and back pay.
For his part, Willis’s New Jersey project has been abandoned, leaving an economically depressed area in the doldrums and some of its citizens upset. Even Moore apparently tired of Willis’s investment dreams. Two summers ago, recalls a former employee at Shorty’s, what began as a spat in the diner escalated until Moore “stood up, slammed her hands on the table and said, ‘I’m sick of your bull and your companies!’ and walked out.”
Shorty’s is now closed. Willis recently shut it down along with the Mint, claiming the spring season was too slow for business. Some saw that as a sign that Willis & Moore Inc. was closing up shop, too. “The rumor mill began to work at full bore,” says C.J. Karamargin, staff writer for the local Wood River Journal.
In fact, says the producer who worked with her, “they have had problems for at least two years”—and have been leading independent lives for some time. Willis never visited Moore during the tough four-month shoot of G.I. Jane, the producer adds, and by the time they appeared together for the movie’s premiere in 1997, “they were more like comrades, supporting each other at a public event.” This past February, theatergoers in Ketchum, outside Hailey, spotted the couple sitting coolly beside each other during a play.
Where Willis and Moore are unquestionably in sync, and are at their best, is in their devotion to their daughters. “They’re both good parents,” says Moore acquaintance Susie Hart. “Bruce is more the disciplinarian. Demi is the more carefree type. She’s more like a big sister or girlfriend.” Karamargin recalls watching the parents at one of their children’s Christmas choir recitals. “Demi was sitting in his lap. You forgot for a second that these were celebrities when you saw them look with such adoration at their daughter.” None of the couple’s friends in Hailey expect either one to uproot the children. Willis “will park himself wherever the kids are,” says neighbor Annette Frehling.
But for now, Moore is focusing on trying to be a good daughter to her mother. A month ago, when she treated Guynes to dinner at the Farmington Red Lobster, “she seemed like she’d just do anything for her mom,” says waiter Mark Mumm. “One time, her mom said she was hot, so Demi immediately asked me to fix the air. And when her mother got tired, Demi took her own coat off and put it underneath her feet to make her more comfortable. She looked after her mother through the entire meal.”
With her mom’s worsening condition and facing the end of her high-profile marriage, Moore, who has read best-selling guru Deepak Chopra and often sprinkles interviews with spiritual boilerplate (“I believe we are all connected, we are all one”), may be inclined to soften what has often seemed a steely image. “She is more vulnerable and fragile than people realize,” the producer says. Already having jettisoned the partners in her film company, “she’s going to stand on her own if she can do it. It will be positive for her.”
And Willis? He said several years ago that a failing marriage was never worth hanging on to. “Life,” he said, “is too short to spend what little precious time you have alive being unhappy.”
Vickie Bane in Idaho, Irene Zutell in New Mexico, Ken Baker and Danelle Morton in Los Angeles