Search My Tributes

Famous Last Words

Thu 3rd Jun 2021

Dying words are a special rite of passage. Some are rehearsed and contrived; others are spontaneous and witty. Knowing the last words that someone spoke can sometimes throw light on their personality or on the circumstances in which they died. When famous people die, their last words often go down in history as gems of wisdom or funny one-liners.

From Maria Antoinette, the forever energetic, outgoing and bold social butterfly who, according to rumours, had dismissed starving peasants with a flippant "let them eat cake", to the ever level-headed Winston Churchill, to the last wish from John Belushi, sometimes these famous last words are ironically funny, and other times, articulate and truly profound.

Marie Antoinette  - "Pardon me Sir. I meant not to do it"

Marie Antoinette's final words show a different side to her frivolous reputation.
Marie Antoinette's final words show a different side to her frivolous reputation.

The fourteen-year-old Austrian princess who later turned wife and queen to Louis XVI was embraced by France in 1770. Twenty-three years later, she lost her head to the guillotine for charges of treason.

While on the scaffold, she accidentally stepped on her executioner's foot and gave him the respectful apology that became her last words,"Pardon me Sir. I meant not to do it". Seconds later, he chopped off her head.

Humphrey Bogart - "I should have never switched from Scotch to martinis"

The Casablanca star's Rat Pack lifestyle caught up with him in the end.
The Casablanca star's Rat Pack lifestyle caught up with him in the end.

With the need to always be in the limelight, Hollywood legend Humphrey Bogart ensured he left his mark not only within his work in entertainment but to be remembered for his witty last words.

The founding member of the hard-drinking, heavy-smoking Rat Pack was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1954. With his ostentatious lifestyle catching up to him, he later died in January 1957, aged 57.

On his deathbed, Bogart uttered this memorable line, "I should have never switched from Scotch to martinis" with his wife, Lauren Bacall, and their children by his side.

John Barrymore - "Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him."

John's final words were consistent with his status among the Barrymore acting dynasty.
John's final words were consistent with his status among the Barrymore acting dynasty.

Better known as "The great profile" and paternal grandfather of actress Drew Barrymore, the American actor of stage, screen and radio bridged the silent and sound era of cinema.

However a heavy smoker and drinker, Barrymore collapsed while appearing on Rudy Vallee's radio show in 1942 and died later the same day while uttering his famous words.

According to Errol Flynn's autobiographies, film director Raoul Walsh 'borrowed' Barrymore's body before burial. He left it propped in a chair for a drunken Flynn to discover when he came home, at which, according to Flynn, he 'let out a delirious scream'. It was the sort of story that Barrymore himself would have revelled. Better to be the source of prankish fun than to calcify into legend.

Winston Churchill - "I'm bored with it all."

Churchill's last words were given weight by his lifetime of service and stoicism.
Churchill's last words were given weight by his lifetime of service and stoicism.

He was the lion who roared when the British Empire needed him most. Considered one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th century, he had the capability to inspire people regardless of seemingly ominous circumstances.

Churchill's speeches are often credited with mobilising the embattled British to "never give up" - and to eventually win the Second World War.

After a lifetime of tremendous achievement and diligent service to his country, he finally yielded. At age 90, the statesman and great leader, softly muttered the words "I'm bored with it all", while slipping in and out of coma. He died nine days later.

Bob Marley - "Money can't buy life."

Bob Marley spread his message of love and peace so widely in his short life - his final words were no exception. Photo by Eric Algra.
Bob Marley spread his message of love and peace so widely in his short life - his final words were no exception. Photo by Eric Algra.

Reggae legend Bob Marley was a philanthropist and humanitarian who was deeply concerned about the state of the world. Consequently, Marley evaluated people on the basis of what they can do for the larger cause. He was a true egalitarian, rarely prejudiced and would not accept the social biases of people.

Before he succumbed to cancer at just 36, Marley did more than bring reggae to the masses. He helped spread the word about his troubled and beloved homeland, Jamaica.

Lying on his deathbed, Marley uttered his final words, "Money can't buy life", to his son, Ziggy, in 1981. Marley's death was later named a national holiday by the Jamaican government. To this day, people still flock to the star's grave to celebrate his music, and his message of peace, freedom and love.

Benjamin Franklin - "A dying man can do nothing easy."

The political icon's last words to his daughter were poignant.
The political icon's last words to his daughter were poignant.

Born January 17, 1706, Benjamin Franklin was a Founding Father and a polymath, inventor, scientist, printer, politician, freemason and diplomat. Most importantly, Franklin is known to have helped draft the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

As Benjamin Franklin lay dying at the age of 84, his daughter told him to change position in bed so he could breathe more easily. Franklin's last words were, "A dying man can do nothing easy."

James Brown - "I'm going away tonight"

James Brown's final words were delivered with the soul he embodied in life (Pictured with Aretha Franklin in 1987).
James Brown's final words were delivered with the soul he embodied in life (Pictured with Aretha Franklin in 1987).

Born on May 3, 1933, James Brown, "Godfather of Soul" unleashed a string of rhythm-and-blues hits through the 1960s and early 1970s. His influence and work ethic earned him the reputation as "the hardest-working man in show business."

The American singer, songwriter, arranger, and dancer, was one of the most important and influential entertainers in 20th-century popular music. Brown had been sick for several months before passing away from congestive heart failure in 2006. He reportedly told Charles Bobbit, his friend and manager, "I'm going away tonight."

Alfred Hitchcock - "One never knows the ending. One has to die to know exactly what happens after death, although Catholics have their hopes."

Hitchcock's profound final words were spoken to those he loved most. Picture: Keystone Press Agency
Hitchcock's profound final words were spoken to those he loved most. Picture: Keystone Press Agency

Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock was nicknamed the "Master of Suspense" for employing a unique kind of psychological tension in his films, producing a distinct viewer experience.

He died peacefully in his sleep due to renal failure with his wife of 54 years Alma Reville, daughter and grandchildren by his side. As he was dying, Alfred Hitchcock said, "One never knows the ending. One has to die to know exactly what happens after death, although Catholics have their hopes."

By Aminah Tejan

Sources: 

  • https://www.sunlife.co.uk/articles-guides/funeral-planning/9-famous-last-words/
  • https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/58534/64-people-and-their-famous-last-words