So few people have the sense or opportunity to recognize when they utter their last words, but when well-known people are among this minority group, we get the cliche, “Famous Last Words.” It’s cool enough when you recognize you’re at the moment where the last thing you ever say is about to come out, and it’s even cooler when they are memorable.
Death row inmates have a history of saying crazy stuff shortly before their execution, such as James French, who told reporters attending his death, “How’s this for your headline? ‘French Fries.’” It’s good to have a sense of humor until the bitter end and many famous people have said funny things shortly before kicking the bucket, like Charlie Chaplin who told a priest “Why not? It belongs to him,” when a priest said “May God have mercy on your soul.”
One of the more interesting sets of famous last words come from former presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who died the exact same day, July 4, 1826. Both knew of each other’s failing health. Jefferson died early in the day, with his last words recorded as, “Is it the Fourth?” while later that day Adams, who had yet to have been told of his friend’s death, uttered his final sentence: “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”
There are deathbed confessions, deathbed regrets and deathbed defiance. There are those who fight every moment leading to their death and those that accept their fate and drift away. All have had fascinating things to say that just make you want to plan your last words so the people at your deathbed look at each other and say, “That was awesome.” In that spirit, here are 15 awesome last words before dying.
15. Lt. Col. Kenneth Wilson
“I had you all going, didn’t I?”
Nobody except his family probably knows who Lt. Col. Kenneth Wilson is by name alone. He was a war hero to be sure, having fought in both world wars, including parachuting behind enemy lines on multiple occasions. Yet almost everybody has seen one of the most famous photographs, the famous “Surgeon’s Photograph” which he shot in 1934 of the Loch Ness Monster. This black-and-white picture was held up for 60 years as proof there was a monster in a Scotland lake. Except, monster’s don’t exist. Wilson confirmed this when moments before dying he confessed to the whole thing being a ruse.
14. Joan Crawford
“Don’t you dare ask God to help me!”
It’s been nearly 40 years since Joan Crawford died although many have read the book or seen the film “Mommie Dearest” told from the point of view of her daughter Christina Crawford. Needless to say, it didn’t paint a rosy picture of living with Hollywood’s original diva, best known for uttering the line “No more wire hangers!” during one of her classic fits. On the day she died of cancer, a couple of nurses tending to her began to pray. Upon seeing this, Crawford, in typical form, wanted to die her way, without anybody else’s help.
13. Werner Heisenberg
“When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: Why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first.”
You know who usually isn’t funny? German scientists who were born in 1901 and spent their lives dealing with aspects of physics that most of us can’t even pronounce. Heisenberg, considered the father of quantum mechanics, won the Nobel Prize in 1932. The reference to turbulence may seem out of left field, but the scientist wrote his doctoral thesis on the subject and later revisited the phenomenon in papers written in 1948 and 1950.
12. Dominique Bouhours
“I am about to, or I am going to, die; either expression is correct.”
Grammar geeks of the world rejoice as you have found your patron saint. The author of (say it all together now) ‘Doutes sur la langue française proposés aux Messieurs de l’Académie française’ really shouldn’t have been expected to say anything less. That hard-to-pronounce book was considered the most important and thorough examination of language at the time. One of the sections of his book was a criticism of several famous phrases of the time, picking them apart the way some of your friends like to point out when you use “there” but you should have used “their” in your Facebook posts. He must have known his last words would be immortalized and he didn’t want to leave it up for debate.
11. P.T. Barnum
“How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?”
It’s certainly not the master showman’s most known quote; that would be “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but it does reveal a lot of insight into one of the world’s great entrepreneurs and self-made men. One of Barnum’s early schemes was to create the circus sideshow promising amazing things people had never seen. When he couldn’t keep topping himself the honest way, he just started faking it, creating oddities like the “Fiji Mermaid,” which was just a monkey’s head sewn onto the body of a fish. His lasting influence though is as the creator of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus. During an 1890 show, he suffered a stroke and died a few months later in April of 1891.
10. Leonardo da Vinci
“I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”
Whoa! Hold on a second! The guy who painted the Mona Lisa and the guy who painted The Last Supper didn’t think he did enough? In examining some of his drawings, people have given him credit for creating the first drafts for inventions that would come to be known as the parachute, the helicopter and the tank. He didn’t think he did enough? How demanding was da Vinci’s father? Hopefully he was simply being humble and didn’t actually think he hadn’t lived up to his potential since we’re still talking about him 500 years later.
9. Anton Cermak
“I’m glad it was me and not you, Mr. President.”
Cermak was the mayor Chicago from 1931 until the time of his death. He was murdered in Miami as he was shaking hands with President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt by Giuseppe Zangara, who later told police that he didn’t hate Roosevelt, just rich and powerful people. As the story goes, just as Zangara was pulling the trigger for the bullet that would kill the man who would become America’s only four-term president, a woman named Lillian Cross saw the assassin take aim and hit his arm with her purse, causing the change in trajectory of his bullet. There has been some speculation that Cermak was indeed the target because of his intent to clean up the organized crime which was dominating Chicago at the time.
8. Dutch Schultz
“You can play jacks, and girls do that with a soft ball and do tricks with it. Oh, oh, dog biscuit. And when he is happy, he doesn’t get snappy.”
Say what? Schultz was a well-known mobster of the late 1920s and early 1930s in New York City. His resume would make the busiest crook shake their head with his fingers in prohibition, running numbers and controlling hospitality unions. The end came for Schultz when he went to the “Mafia Commission,” a group of organized crime heads in New York and requested permission to kill US Attorney Thomas Dewey, his biggest enemy. The mobsters denied permission. Schultz tried taking over some of their rackets and found himself gunned down for his efforts. His last words were part of a stream-of-consciousness babble written down by police. His last words have been analyzed by literary geeks for years.
7. Benito Mussolini
“Shoot me in the chest!”
If you’re going to be a ruthless dictator in life showing no compassion toward those you’ve killed, you might as well ride that train to the bitter end. The founder of fascism, Mussolini actually came to power legally in 1922, but had converted the Italian government to meet his political philosophy by 1925, when he was no longer considered a legitimate Prime Minister by the rest of the world. A proud member of the Axis powers with Germany and Russia during World War II, Mussolini was ousted from power by the Grand Council of Fascism. After escaping from prison, he laid low, but was eventually found and executed near Lake Como, to the delight of millions of Italians. To prove he was dead, his body was hung upside and displayed for public viewing at a gas station.
6. Albert Einstein
“It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.”
This list is full of nasty people who said some pretty badass stuff when staring down the end of a gun, but this quote, from one of the smartest me to ever live, may be among the most gangster. There’s no crying, no begging, no last minute deals made with his Higher Power. Like most scientists, Einstein knew when he wouldn’t get favorable results after suffering abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was ready go and he didn’t want anyone to think that he wasn’t cool with it and that he was going into the afterlife with regrets. Hopefully, he believed what he said.
5. Humphrey Bogart
“I should have never switched from scotch to martinis.”
Realizing he was just moments away from dying, this Hollywood legend requested his wife and children come to his bedside so he could make his goodbyes. Once he did, he uttered his alcoholic regret and died. The actor died of a malignancy in his esophagus that was diagnosed a year earlier. The three-time Oscar nominee made movies until he was no longer physically able and is best known for his roles in ‘Casablanca,’ ‘The African Queen’ and ‘The Maltese Falcon.’ The American Film Institute named him the greatest male actor of all-time. If the criteria was last words, he gets our vote.
4. Christine Chubbuck
“And now, in keeping with Channel 40’s policy of always bringing you the latest in blood and guts, in living color, you’re about to see another first, an attempted suicide.”
And with those words, Florida TV news anchor Christine Chubbuck put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. The TV station quickly cut to black and Chubbuck died in a nearby hospital several hours later. Shortly after her on-air suicide, Chubbuck’s family requested that all videotapes be destroyed, so don’t bother looking for it on YouTube. Chubbuck had suffered from depression for years and lamented to friends she was still a virgin at age 30 and had never gone on more than two dates with the same person. Ironically, her co-workers said she had made a few off-color jokes about someone killing themselves on-air in the weeks leading up to her death.
3. Harvey Korman
“Tape Seinfeld for me.”
Known best for his teaming with fellow comedian Tim Conway on ‘The Carol Burnett Show,’ this funnyman just wanted his Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer to be there when he woke up in the morning. Korman died at the UCLA Medical Center of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, the same ailment that took Albert Einstein’s life. Korman, whose most well-known film role was as Hedley Lamarr in the brilliant “Blazing Saddles,” spent the last few years of his life doing voiceover work for children’s programming, including the NIckelodeon shows “Hey Arnold!” and “The Wild Thornberrys.” Perhaps the best thing about his closing quote was that he wanted a rerun of ‘Seinfeld’ taped. The show had been off the air for 10 years at the time of Korman’s death.
2. Ernesto “Che” Guevara
“I know you have come to kill me. Shoot coward, you are only going to kill a man.”
Guevara said this to a Bolivian soldier, Mario Teran, shortly before being assassinated at the age of 39 following a turbulent political life. One of the architects of Castro’s takeover of the Cuban government, the socialist revolutionary is a controversial figure, seen as a hero by some and villain by others. He is accused by some of ordering the deaths of hundreds of people imprisoned in Cuba during the revolution. He probably had no idea that he’d end up an iconic image on the T-shirts of millions of hipsters who likely have no idea who Guevara actually was.
1. Karl Marx
“Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”
The paradox about not wanting to say any last words and letting your opinion known is that, by default, those become your last words. Marx’s last words were uttered to his housekeeper who wanted him to say something so she could write them down. Marx died of bronchitis and pleurisy after a long life of sharing his beliefs of how society and economics are forever linked. Marx believed that capitalism, like most forms of government, would eventually collapse as it was just a front for the ruling class. What would rise from the ashes would be socialism, according to Marx, but as the world found out, it was greatly skewed and forever seen as a bad thing when those ideas evolved into communism.
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