TV URBAN LEGEND: Bruce Willis guest-starred on “Friends” because he lost a bet to Matthew Perry during the filming of “The Whole Nine Yards.”
During the sixth season of “Friends,” Bruce Willis guest-starred in three episodes as Paul Stevens, the father of Ross’s girlfriend Elizabeth (as we detailed in a recent TV Legends Revealed, Elizabeth was originally going to play a major role on the series). Unsurprisingly, Paul has a problem with his college-aged daughter dating her former professor. However, he becomes enamored with Rachel, and must make nice with Ross if he wants to have a chance of dating her. In the second of the three episodes Willis appears in, he has a memorable scene in which he pumps himself up in the mirror before a date with Rachel, saying, “You’re a neat guy. You’re a love machine.”
Willis won an Emmy Award for Best Guest Actor in a Comedy for his performance as Paul. However, over the years, there’s been an interesting rumor over just how “Friends” was able to get such a major movie star. Brad Pitt also guest-starred, but he was married to cast member Jennifer Aniston at the time. So how did they nab Willis? Was it really due to a bet he made with his “Whole Nine Yards” co-star Matthew Perry?
As the legend goes, Perry felt optimistic about their comedy’s box-office prospects while Willis was a bit more wary. So Perry proposed a bet: If the film opened at No. 1, Willis would agree to appear on “Friends” for free. The film surprised a lot of people by becoming a big hit, leading the box office in its first three weeks of release in 2000. Thus, Willis had to appear on “Friends” for free.
However, I’m a bit wary about the specifics, as I’ve never seen any definitive statement from Willis or Perry that there even was a bet. What I did find were many interviews in which the actors said how much they enjoyed working together on the film and how they became good friends. In a “People” magazine spotlight on the star in 2000, Willis was overheard calling Perry on the phone, “Hey, this is the Big Star. Come on over to eat dinner with me.” In that same piece, it specifically states that Willis “agreed to a guest stint on ‘Friends’ simply because he and Perry thought it would be fun.”
However, it is true that Willis accepted the role for free. Well, rather, he donated the money he made to The American Foundation for AIDS Research, AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the Rape Treatment Center, and UCLA Unicamp for underprivileged children. Willis announced the donations through his publicist.
So, could he have been scheduled to do the guest stint no matter what, and the bet was that he would do the episodes for free? Sure, I could believe that, but I could also believe a big star like Willis donating the money to charity because, well, he didn’t need the money and it was good publicity.
While I’m still unsure whether he appeared in the episodes for free because of the bet (an awful lot of otherwise-reliable places have reported on the bet story, but none of them has quotes or sources), I’m confident he was already going to do the show because of his friendship with Perry. Therefore, I’m going with the main legend as …
And a “Probably True” about the “Donating the money to charity because of the bet” story.
Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of television.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com.
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