Die Hard Donation

Bruce Willis gives John McClane's blood-smeared undershirt to the Smithsonian. Yippee-ki-yay...

Bruce Willis donates John McClane's undershirt to the National Museum of American History, as museum director Brent Glass looks on. (Courtesy of the National Museum of American History, SI)
smithsonian.com

Actor Bruce Willis visited the Smithsonian on June 27 to donate a dirty, blood-smeared undershirt to the National Museum of American History. Why? Willis wore the shirt when he played New York police officer John McClane in 1988's Die Hard.

Besides the undershirt, Willis donated a poster from the 1988 movie and a prop police badge and script from the 2007 sequel, Live Free or Die Hard. The original is "a quintessential Hollywood action movie," according to museum director Brent Glass, who accepted the donation.

Along with the boxing gloves from Rocky and the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, the Die Hard collection will represent American movie heritage. The items will go on display July 12 as part of the "Treasures of American History" exhibition, hosted by the Air and Space Museum while the National Museum of American History is closed for renovations. Bruce Willis spoke with the magazine's Amy Crawford.

How does it feel to have your undershirt in a museum with Abraham Lincoln's top hat?

It's pretty amazing. I was really surprised by this. I never really thought of this film as part of the culture. I never thought that it would come this far, and it is an honor. The Smithsonian Institution is a big deal—I used to come here when I was a kid.

What do action movies say about American culture?

You can draw a straight line from westerns and cowboy movies, to military movies and gangster movies, to what they now call "action movies"—they're really just about good triumphing over evil. They're morality stories that sometimes work and sometimes don't, and these films just seem to work.

Is John McClane a quintessentially American character?

I think so. What I've been saying about the character for a long time is that he loves his country, loves his family. He has a very American sense of humor. This character, in all four films, has always had zero tolerance for anyone trying to hurt or do harm to innocent people.

What's the best part of playing McClane?

Going to see it with an audience. It's kind of like going to an amusement park and going on a big roller coaster ride. It's just fun, it's entertaining. It's still a lot of fun for me to be an entertainer. It's a cool job.

I understand you actually bleed your own blood at one point in the latest movie.

Yeah. I just got cut.

How often do you get hurt?

Not that often. More banged up than cut. I have a couple souvenirs from every one of the Die Hard movies.

How many of the stunts and fight scenes did you do yourself?

The first one and the fourth one I did 80 or 85 percent. There are some things I just can't do. Or shouldn't do. But I did a lot more now than I did in the middle two.

Why did you do more in the new one?

I think because the stunt guys and the stunt coordinators were giving me a hard time. They were saying, "Oh, you're getting older now, you probably shouldn't be doing stunts." And of course that made me do even more. Which I think is another American concept.

After having the experience of being John McClane, do you think you could hold your own if there were a real terrorist attack?

No. I think there are a lot of people who are far better trained at that than I am. People who actually serve are the real heroes. I just act in films. But I don't think they can make enough films about soldiers and cops and doctors and nurses and emergency tech people. Those guys are doing a much harder job than I have to do, and they don't get enough thanks.

How do cops like the Die Hard movies?

They like them a lot. I was in New York, and New York cops—those guys really dig it.

What's the chance of a Die Hard 5?

A very good chance, I think. It always depends on how well this film does.

It seems like these movies are very much of their eras, whether it's the 1980s or the Internet age and post-9/11. What do you think a fifth movie would cover?

It's still about keeping America safe. I find, whenever the situation arises, that there's a lot of national pride in this country. I'm really proud to be an American. I love this country and the freedoms that we have here. I would certainly fight for them. I'd fight to keep my daughters and my family safe.

Can you say the line?

Oh sure, yippee-ki-yay—

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About Amy Crawford
Amy Crawford

Amy Crawford is a Boston-based freelance journalist writing about government, education and ideas. Her writing has appeared in Smithsonian, Slate, Boston Magazine and the Boston Globe.

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