That Time Bruce Willis Tried Purchasing An Entire Town In Idaho

That Time Bruce Willis Tried Purchasing An Entire Town In Idaho
Image credit: Legion-Media

Celebrities often don't know what to do with their wealth. In the worst cases, they get scammed outright, as happened to Kevin Bacon, who fell for Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

Odd and unwise investments are not uncommon. For example, several famous actors have tried to buy entire cities, and it never worked out. This happened to Kim Basinger, Johnny Depp, but Bruce Willis may have made the biggest effort to become a city owner.

He tried to take it slow, though.

In 1988, he and his then-wife Demi Moore bought a ranch in Hailey, Idaho, a quiet town of about 6,000 people at the time. Willis wanted to create a quiet refuge for himself away from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood, but he also wanted to change the environment to suit his tastes. So Willis began slowly pouring money into buying land and revitalizing the downtown area, including renovating buildings, opening a diner, buying the local dive bar and the movie theater on Main Street.

He even arranged for a Virginia theater company to move to town.

At first he did so under an alias, using an investment company specifically created for this purpose. But the local press quickly caught on to his plan. As Wayne Adair, a former news editor at Hailey's Wood River Journal, told in a podcast:

"We felt it was our duty, our journalistic responsibility, to let our readers know exactly who was buying property on main street, and I think he was less than happy with us over that."

Indeed, the locals were less than happy to hear the news. And the citizens of Hailey were right to be suspicious of Willis' plans, despite the new investment in their town. After all, the businesses owned by Bruce Willis employed a significant percentage of the town's working adults.

But in May 1998, Willis decided he no longer cared about Hailey. He abruptly closed the diner and the dive bar, putting a number of Hailey residents out of work. He also pulled most of his investments out of town, leaving many projects unfinished. There were also complaints about unpaid bills, and Willis was generally a tough employer.

The story ended with Willis selling his 20-acre ranch in Hailey for $5.5 million in 2018, and neither side has fond memories of the whole deal.