Early in 1987, producers Larry Gordon and Joel Silver were on the hunt for an action hero. They were working on a rollercoaster tale about terrorists hijacking a high-rise tower in Los Angeles and the script called for a muscle-bound bruiser.
For contractual reasons, Frank Sinatra was top of the list for Die Hard. Ol’ Blue Eyes had first refusal as he’d been the star of 1968’s The Detective, which like Die Hard was based on author Roderick Thorp’s thriller novels.
When the 70-year-old crooner confirmed his terrorist-fighting days were long behind him, producers went straight to the most obvious candidate: Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Terminator, Commando and Predator star said no, preferring to try his hand at comedy alongside Danny DeVito in Twins. The rejections kept coming: Richard Gere, Burt Reynolds, Harrison Ford, Sylvester Stallone, Nick Nolte, Don Johnson and Mel Gibson all passed.
Way down the list was Bruce Willis. He passed too, citing commitments to Moonlighting, the private detective TV show in which he starred opposite Cybill Shepherd. Then, the fates aligned. “As it turns out, a miracle happened,” Willis told Entertainment Weekly in 2007. “Cybill Shepherd got pregnant and they shut down the show for 11 weeks – just the right amount of time for me to run around over at Nakatomi Tower.”