EDITOR’S NOTE: The Return of Bruno was not produced by Cannon. It was, however, released on video by HBO/Cannon Home Video.
There comes a time in every star’s career when they decide to do something beyond what you know them for. Usually, that means putting out an album. Bruce Willis was a security guard and a bartender — where he had the nickname Bruno — before he became the biggest TV star in America and then a huge movie star thanks to Die Hard. But before that, well, he somehow got signed to Motown and put out The Return of Bruno.
But what if it wasn’t really Bruce Willis but instead his Eddie Wilson-like alter ego Bruno Radolini, the legendary blues singer who influenced everyone. Yes, as if Marty McFly invented rock and roll wasn’t enough, now Willis would take the rest of the credit and bring along tons of musicians along for the ride like Phil Collins, Elton John, Ringo Starr, Grace Slick, Joan Baez, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, Melvin Franklin, Jon Bon Jovi, Freddie Garrity, The Bee Gees, Paul Stanley and Bobby Colomby to play along. I mean, they got Brian Wilson out of his sandbox to speak about how influential Bruno was. The cherries on top are getting Bill Graham, Wolfman Jack and Henry Diltz to do the same, as well as the aforementioned Michael J. Fox and to ice the cake, as it were, Clive Davis and Don Cornelius, with “America’s teenager” Dick Clark providing the narration.
The album that came out of this has Booker T. Jones, The Pointer Sisters and The Temptations, with material including covers and songs like “Respect Yourself,” (which hit number 5 on the Billboard chart in American and number 7 in the UK) “Under the Boardwalk,” (the 12th biggest selling UK single of 1987 that hit number 2 on their charts; “Jackpot (Bruno’s Bop)” and “Secret Agent Man / James Bond Is Back,” which peaked at number 43 in the UK.
Yes, this album was so successful that Willis had a secon Motown album, If It Don’t Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger, which is a Nietzsche quote that I assume applies to anyone that makes it through the entire ten songs.
I kid! I have always been a huge Willis fan and when I was a kid I was totally enamored of his Seagram’s wine cooler commericals to the point that I would drink the Seagram’s seltzer and pretend that I was him, rocking sunglasses and performing the kind of white soul that would cause even the Blues Brothers to tell him that this was kind of cringe.
The director of this made for HBO special, James Yukich, has had quite the career. He did music videos like Iron Maiden’s “Flight of Icarus,” “Running Free,” “Wasted Years,” “Ace’s High” and “Two Minutes to Midnight;” Bowie’s “Modern Love;” the “Land of Confusion” and “That’s All” videos for Genesis; “The Flame” for Cheap Trick; “Always There for You” by Stryper, “The Real Me” by W.A.S.P. and Nelson’s “After the Rain” and “Love and Affection.” He also made Double Dragon, which is amazing to me that a Bruce Willis movie doc was made by the very same individual.
It took three people to write this: Paul Flattery, whose career has mainly been in award shows; Bob Hart and, of course, Willis himself, who couldn’t even make it to some of the filming of his own special, so his brother David played him in the Whiskey scene. Willis also is merely acting like he’s playing the harmonica; mostly it’s Bruce DiMattia.
Man, this entire thing is…very 1987. I was in a bunch of high school garage bands then that all wanted to be hair metal bands and always wanted me to write about parties when all I wanted to be was Danzig in the Misfits. One of Bruno’s songs, “Funtime,” feels like lyrics I was forced to write:
“Oh yes, it’s fun time(Fun time) Fun time (Fun time) Let yourself be happy, it’s fun time”
I definitely watched this enough that I had it on a taped from HBO VHS.
Oh 1987 Sam. You knew so little, you little chubby movie geek in the making.