When it comes to vanity projects, there are bad ideas, and then there are catastrophes. Some stars open restaurants with their windfalls or even finance their own movies, but Bruce Willis isn't just some star. He's the action hero from Die Hard, and he doesn't do anything small. Throughout the '90s, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore lived in the small town of Hailey, ID, which they transformed into their idea of paradise. Willis invested in a diner, a club, and even his own theater. Moore filled a renovated Victorian mansion with her doll collection. The small town with a population of less than 10,000 became so flush with Willis's cash that people started calling it "Planet Haileywood."
And then, suddenly, the money went away. Willis simply shut down all his properties and left - but he didn't stray far. In 2017, Willis began moving forward with plans to build an airstrip not far from Hailey. This resurfaced tensions among residents, some of whom are still angry at the actor for his past actions. Some have even filed a lawsuit against his airstrip.
In the years since he took over the town, the reasons for his actions are still murky. Why did Bruce Willis buy out an entire town and why is he still kicking around Idaho with big ideas?
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Willis Just Wanted To Get Away
Bruce Willis and Demi Moore moved to Idaho because they wanted to get away from the trappings of celebrity. The two A-listers claimed they wanted to live around regular people and away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi. They chose the Sun Valley area of Idaho, a favorite resort destination for Hollywood elite since the 1930s.
It didn't take long for Willis to set his sights on nearby Hailey, a run-down mining town in need of renovations. Willis saw a chance to rebuild it in his own image, but that decision came with a series of mental and fiscal costs that ultimately turned the small town into a PR disaster for the actor.
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He Turned Hailey Into A Modern Boomtown
As soon as Willis began buying property in Hailey, he essentially turned its citizens into his employees. He established a real estate company, Valley Entertainment, which employed 250 locals, and turned himself into somewhat of a small-town tycoon.
In the mid-'90s, Willis's Idaho hideaway became a boomtown, with celebrities visiting Hailey to see what the hubbub was about and tourists stopping by to see if they could catch a glimpse of the celebs.
At the time, Willis and Moore were huge stars, and their films regularly topped the box office. Meanwhile, Willis's other venture, Planet Hollywood, was still performing well. It made sense for the actor to throw everything he had into making Hailey the new Park City.
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He Opened A Nightclub
The first business Willis opened in Hailey was the Mint, a nightclub. In the '90s, the Mint was a run-down dive Willis bought for $200,000. According to The Independent, the actor spent millions renovating it, and by the time the building was finished, it hosted artists like B.B. King and Buffalo Springfield.
The bar also attracted its fair share of trouble. Some claimed the security staff was overzealous and that members of the waitstaff were selling drugs on the side, but none of those claims were ever fully substantiated. Supposedly, Willis regularly invited members of the community to the bar and put their drinks on the house, only to take out his frustration with the losses incurred on his staff after he checked the books.
Willis closed the Mint on a semi-permanent basis in the 2000s and finally sold the property to local investors in 2018. In August 2018, the Mint reopened under new management as a bar, restaurant, and live music venue.
He Poured Money Into The Liberty Theatre
The biggest vanity purchase Willis made in Hailey was the Liberty Theatre, a historic movie house that had fallen into disrepair. Willis didn't just restore the space to its former glory - he blew the whole thing out, even installing Bolivian rosewood panels and love seats in the balcony.
The renovations were so elaborate, the theater never turned a profit. Willis's then local business manager Joe McAllister said, "The Liberty is about romanticism, not a return on investment."
According to the LA Weekly, during the theater's first premiere, Willis stood outside the venue shouting, "You can all come in now! The Hershey bars and Baby Ruths are free!"
In December 2016, Willis and Moore donated the theater to the Sun Valley Center for the Arts.
Shorty's Diner Revived The 1950s Vibe In Hailey
One of the many passion projects Willis took on in Hailey was Shorty's Diner, a 1950s-style malt shop complete with sea foam green booths and a jukebox in the corner. According to The Independent, Shorty's had such a hold on the breakfast crowd that the two other diners in town shut down due to lack of business.
Even though the diner was a popular attraction in Hailey, one day in May 2008, Willis shuttered the windows and walked away. Terra Korom, Shorty's bookkeeper, recalled: "He came into Shorty's on a Sunday night, clapped his hands, and said: 'Okay. Close the place down. We're done.'"
The staff was sent home, and that was that, though the diner soon reopened under new management.
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Demi Moore Filled A Victorian Mansion With Porcelain Dolls
Many of Willis's purchases in Hailey can be explained as business acumen despite their extravagance, but one seemed inexplicable. After buying a plot of land and everything on it from the Lawson family, Willis's brief neighbors, Willis reportedly pressured the family also to sell him their new home, a Victorian mansion they had just renovated, for far above the asking price.
Willis gave the home to his then-wife, Demi Moore, for her 30th birthday. Moore used the house as a place to store her collection of porcelain dolls, which at the time numbered around 2,000.
Ed Lawson later explained, "What Bruce Willis wants, Bruce Willis gets. He makes up his mind what he is going to do and does it."