After he graduated from high school in 1973, Willis took a job as a security guard at the Salem Nuclear Power Plant and transported work crews at the DuPont Chambers Works factory in Deepwater, New Jersey. After working as a private investigator (a role he would play in the television series Moonlighting and the 1991 film The Last Boy Scout), Willis turned to acting. He enrolled in the Drama Program at Montclair State University, where he was cast in the class production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Willis left school in his junior year in 1977 and moved to New York City, where in the early 1980s he supported himself as a bartender at the West 19th Street art bar Kamikaze. At the time, he lived in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. He performed as an extra in Paul Newman’s closing summation scene in The Verdict in 1982.