While there is a multitude of benefits to being a leading film or television actor, celebrities have long taken breaks from the pressures of the limelight by seeking privacy or solitude in homes outside of Los Angeles.
For Die Hard and Moonlighting star Bruce Willis, his disenchantment with the Hollywood lifestyle and his frequent presence on the covers of tabloids led him to take matters into his own hands in the '90s, and he began buying up properties in an Idaho town called Hailey.
Bruce and his then-wife, Demi Moore, even chose to raise their three daughters in the central Idaho community. Though the Pulp Fiction star wanted to build up Hailey and invest in its success, the town soon became the type of tourist attraction that Bruce had been trying to avoid.
The film star's time in Hailey is the subject of the iHeartRadio Original Podcast, Haileywood. Dana Schwartz, who also hosts the Noble Blood podcast and who has authored several books (her next, Anatomy: A Love Story, will be released in January 2022), is the voice behind the eight-episode series.
The host spoke exclusively with Distractify about why the story piqued her interest and how she would react if Bruce himself listened.
Bruce Willis set his sights on Hailey, Idaho in the '90s and purchased several homes and businesses there.
Following the initial success of the '80s dramedy, Moonlighting, Bruce went from relative obscurity to being a top TV star. While his subsequent casting as John McClane in Die Hard was viewed as a somewhat odd choice at first, the success of the franchise solidified his position as a mega, in-demand action star.
During both his career highs and lows (which included a few film flops in the early '90s), Bruce was often hesitant to interact with the press. His high-profile relationship with Demi Moore further brought him into the spotlight, which made his eventual move to Hailey all the more appealing.
In 1994, Bruce started buying up properties on Hailey's main street under the corporation name, IxNay Investment Trust. In addition to his own home, the actor bought vacant lots, a pizza spot, a bar, a movie theatre, and a second house for Demi to display her extensive doll collection.
During this time, Bruce pumped a lot of capital into the town, and he worked on updating these aforementioned businesses to make them his own. As others became aware of Bruce and Demi's situation in Hailey, they began to attract a level of attention that was reminiscent of Tinseltown.
Though the actor's physical and financial influence on the working-class town is still up for debate today, Haileywood host Dana Schwartz understands why the screen star was particularly drawn to Hailey. She noted that celebrities today can have "more control over their image" thanks to social media but that negative press attention had the ability to shape public perception during the height of Bruce's career.
"I empathize with Bruce Willis in the '90s, who was really vulnerable to tabloid culture, who wasn't able to shape his own narrative in the way that he wanted," Dana shared with Distractify. "He sort of built this little kingdom for himself in a way that I don't know if actors or celebrities might have the impulse to today. It's a very '90s story in a lot of ways."
The actor's omnipresence in Hailey didn't last long beyond the decade. He and Demi split in 1998, and he closed down the nightclub and diner he bought shortly thereafter.
Bruce officially sold his Hailey residence for $5.5 million in 2018. Bruce put the 20-acre property on the market for $15 million in 2011. Though The Sixth Sense star largely closed the chapter on his life in Hailey when his expansive lakefront home sold, the Haileywood podcast is bringing the story back to life.
The 'Haileywood' podcast chronicles the rise and fall of Bruce Willis's Hailey kingdom.
While Bruce's decision to remove his family from Hollywood is something that he has been open about in the past, the details of his time as a resident in Hailey have largely been a mystery to the public.
Haileywood includes insight from journalists who attempted to cover the story as it unfolded and from Hailey residents who are divided about whether the actor had a positive or negative influence on the town.
Dana noted that the goal of the podcast is to "portray a very even-handed picture" of Bruce's moves in Hailey.
"It's not a hack job, or a takedown, at least in my mind," she said. "There are still a lot of people in Hailey who really fundamentally believe that he invested in this town and developed it."
However, she explained, there are also residents who are "reeling from what they see as the damage that Bruce Willis did and the personal vendettas that he engaged in while he was in town."
"There are multiple ways to see this story," Dana added. "If it was clear-cut, with heroes and villains, it wouldn't be as interesting as I think it is."
The host was drawn to the story because it touches on "the idea of privilege, of power, of this need to build a bubble for yourself and wanting to be famous on your terms."
"Even if you disagree with some of his actions or his ego, the things that were provided for him because of his fame and his money, you can at least have empathy for his situation, in which you feel trapped by your own fame," she explained.
The podcaster has already covered Bruce's sometimes-tense relationship with journalists on Haileywood, and she recognizes that the existence of Haileywood could spark some sort of reaction from the actor or his team.
"I genuinely don't think he knows who I am or has ever heard of me. I don't think he will be happy with me if he ever finds out who I am," she said. "I'm counting on the fact that Bruce Willis is so important and busy that he will never care about who I am."
With only two episodes of Haileywood out so far, Dana shared that there is a lot left for listeners to explore.
"You're going to hear how he built up a kingdom, only to tear it down," she teased.
New episodes of Haileywood drop on Wednesdays. The iHeart Original Podcast can be streamed on all major podcasting platforms.