Studies have shown that we speak an average 20,000 words per day. But what about when time is running out, and there’s no longer a wealth of words available? Some of the most interesting and honest words have come from those who are breathing their last breath and it is fascinating to look at the import society places on these last words, while considering just why a person would feel compelled to say certain things during their last moments.
History has done well in keeping records of the final words of many celebrities and famous figures. When Steve Jobs passed away, it was reported that his final words were, “Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow” as if making an incredible observation. Who knows what Jobs may have been experiencing as he was passing away, but if his words are anything to go by then it must have been interesting.
When famous figures have been executed, people will flock to find out what their last words were. Upon his pending execution, Davy Crockett apparently said, “I’m warning you boys, I’m a screamer” right before his execution, displaying humor at the face of death.
The following are ten of the most interesting and most famous last words of people at death’s door. Whether they are emotionally riveting, comical, or confusing, the last words that we utter before our time in this world is over are quite possibly the most important.
10. Voltaire – “Now, now, my good man, this is no time for making enemies.”
When Voltaire (1694-1778) was on his deathbed and asked by a priest to renounce Satan, his response was a true reflection of the wit and brilliance that helped him advocate causes such as a right to a fair trial and freedom of religion. Voltaire, a deist, wrote some of the world’s most famous essays and was an inspiration for many leaders who sought to change the world. So when he was asked to renounce Satan, anyone who knew Voltaire should not have been surprised by his answer.
9. Oscar Wilde – “These curtains are killing me; one of us has got to go.”
During his lifetime, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) went from being one of the most famous figures among the elite to the most rejected. His downfall was attributed to the fact that he was he was in prison for two years for “gross indecency” for engaging in homosexual behavior. But his last words regarding the curtains seem to pay homage to his successful career as the author of The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray, as he gave his wit and sharp tongue on last hurrah.
8. Joan Crawford – “Damn it… Don’t you dare ask God to help me.”
Joan Crawford (1905-1977) said this to her maid as she began to pray. Regardless of her Catholic roots and later conversion to Christian Science, Crawford didn’t want any help from God or any sort of divine intervention on her deathbed. It was this same independent attitude that got her through her lifetime of four husbands and six adopted children, as well as a successful career in Hollywood. Her last words are a true reflection of Crawford’s drive, tenacity, and strength and it’s no surprise that her personality and character would make one last appearance before she died.
7. Tallulah Bankhead – “Codeine…bourbon.”
Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968) was an American actress who died from pneumonia, emphysema, malnutrition, and a strain of the flu. She was known for her wit and hilarious one-liners such as “Cocaine isn’t habit forming. I should know – I’ve been using it for years”, which make her extremely quotable. The quote about cocaine could possibly explain her last words, as she likely enjoyed mind-altering substances. Bankhead was highly regarded as a woman of her craft and she advocated living a good life and enjoying the time you have on the earth to the maximum.
6. James Donald French – “Hey fellas! How about this for a headline for tomorrow’s paper? French Fries!”
James Donald French (1936-1966) was one of the last inmates to be executed under the death penalty law in the state of Oklahoma in the United States. He was electrocuted in 1966 for killing one of his inmates, and was originally jailed for murder as well. Given the style of the death by electrocution, people were able to watch, and there were many members of the press were present. It is very likely that French said these words to get one last joke and last word in before the guards flipped the switch.
5. Edgar Allan Poe – “Lord! Help my poor soul.”
Not only was the life of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) fascinating, but his death remains a mystery. The gothic writer had one of the most successful and influential careers in literature, whether he recognized it or not, with works such as “The Raven” and “The Tell Tale Heart”. The mystery surrounding his death begins with him being found in a gutter and uttering the name, “Reynolds” or “Herring”. Testimonies stated that he was found in a drunken-like state and was taken to the hospital. What was even more mysterious was that his clothing was uncharacteristic; he had gone from being properly dressed to wearing rags and tattered clothing.
4. James Brown – “I’m going away tonight.”
James Brown (1933-2006), considered to be “The Godfather of the Soul”, passed away on Christmas morning in 2006. The 73-year old music legend fell ill with pneumonia after suffering from congestive heart failure. Surrounded by family, Brown uttered his last words, took a few deep breaths, and then slipped away. Millions of fans around the world mourned his death and the music industry suffered a tremendous blow. Brown helped shape music in the 20th century, which evolved into the many music styles that we listen to today.
3. Humphrey Bogart – “I should have never switched from Scotch to Martinis.”
Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) had a legacy that included much alcohol consumption as well as having a sharp tongue. Whether it was on stage or on screen, Bogart was a genuine man whose personality didn’t differ much from his roles. In fact, the words that he spoke himself were often more poetic than anything a screenwriter could drum up for him.
While filming “The African Queen”, everyone except Bogart got ill from dysentery. He credited his consumption of scotch and stated that a mosquito that dared bite him would fall down drunk. So perhaps it is no wonder that he lamented about scotch on his deathbed and the beverage was the topic of his last words.
2. Jessica Dubroff – “Do you hear the rain? Do you hear the rain?”
Jessica Dubroff (1988-1996) is forever remembered as the seven-year old girl who wanted to be the youngest person to fly an airplane across the United States. She was in a single engine propeller plane, at the time being flown by her instructor, and was on the phone with her mother when the aircraft suffered engine failure and crashed during a storm over Cheyenne, Wyoming. At the time of her death, Jessica was already a media sensation as a child pilot. But after her death, the media was left asking the questions of how far we should really push our kids.
1. Dominique Bouhours – “I am about to — or I am going to — die: either expression is correct.”
Dominique Bouhours (1628-1702) really displayed his wit and ability to poke fun at himself and his career on his deathbed in Paris. The French Jesuit priest, essayist, and grammarian, always had perfect grammar and was helped shape and form the grammatical conventions that we know today. So, if you’re a grammar nerd, give a nod to Dominique Bouhours and remember that even when he was on the brink of death, he made sure his grammar was perfect.