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Moonrise and Sunset: A Tribute to Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis’ retirement last month concludes one of Hollywood’s most successful and beloved film careers. With over 100 titles grossing $5 billion, Willis’ filmography includes such hits as “Die Hard,” “Armageddon,” “The Sixth Sense,” “Red” and “Pulp Fiction” — not to mention Emmy-winning stints on TV’s “Moonlighting” and “Friends.”

Given this popularity, Webb Weekly sidesteps major landmarks in Bruce’s career to focus instead on lesser-known facts and films:

Raised and educated in New Jersey, Willis was actually born in West Germany, son of a military father who shortly returned to the States.

Bruce told Actors Studio host James Lipton that in youth he struggled with a stutter, finding relief through early forays onstage.

In film, he got his start with uncredited roles in “The First Deadly Sin” (1980) and “The Verdict” (1982); fittingly, his later career included many other cameos — often playing himself — in, for example, “Ocean’s Twelve,” “Nancy Drew” and “The Expendables.”

Willis made numerous appearances on David Letterman’s “Late Show,” once assuming host duties when Letterman was ill. He also released three pop albums, the first of which — 1987’s “The Return of Bruno” — included the modest hit “Respect Yourself,” with the Pointer Sisters.

In 2015, still riding on strong cinematic popularity, the actor made his Broadway debut with Laurie Metcalf — in an adaptation of Stephen King’s “Misery.” Critics were unkind to Willis here, but my wife and I enjoyed the show; interestingly, Willis’ indomitable tough-guy persona made it necessary to stage this thriller as something of a comedy — and that worked, thanks partly to Metcalf’s deadpan antics. Willis also made a Showtime version of dramatist Sam Shepard’s modern masterpiece “True West,” but that now seems impossible to see.

Speaking of under-the-radar work, here are others to watch for:

The early “Sunset” (1988) should have been better, given its cast and pedigree (director Blake Edwards, composer Henry Mancini); but it’s fun to watch Willis play silent-film star Tom Mix — acting opposite the great James Garner.

One of Bruce’s finest films is the 1995 time-travel thriller “12 Monkeys,” directed by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam and scripted by David Peoples (“Blade Runner,” “Unforgiven”). A hit at the time, “Monkeys” co-starred Madeleine Stowe and Christopher Plummer, also netting Brad Pitt his first Oscar nomination. And along the same lines, don’t miss Willis’ other time-travel masterpiece: 2012’s “Looper,” in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt triumphs playing a younger version of Bruce’s character. Directed by Rian Johnson — who cut his teeth on “Breaking Bad” and also scored with “Knives Out” — “Looper” co-stars Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels.

From that same year, don’t miss Wes Anderson’s charming “Moonrise Kingdom,” a coming-of-age love story that co-stars Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Harvey Keitel. Willis also made a modestly successful Disney comedy called “The Kid” (2000), in which his character encounters an eight-year-old version of himself — and the two strike up a friendship that challenges them both to be better people.

In later years, Willis inexplicably appeared in more than 20 straight-to-video duds, often paid handsomely for very brief work. Rather than remembering him for these widely panned movies, watch instead two other competent actioners: “Hostage” (2005), where he worked with his own daughter Rumer — and the neglected “16 Blocks” (2006), in which he plays a hard-luck cop assigned to escort a wanted witness (rapper Mos Def) across the titular Manhattan distance; that latter title was directed by the legendary Richard Donner (“Superman,” “Lethal Weapon,” “The Omen,” “The Goonies”).

So despite our collective sadness over his retirement, there’s plenty to remember Bruce by.