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'Famous Last Words'

Posted on 16 September 2020

The most famous sign-offs in history

When famous people die, their last words often go down in history as pearls of wisdom or funny one-liners.

Ever thought what you’d want your last words to be? Would you want to be remembered as witty, wise or just plain wacky?

Here’s a selection of some of the most famous last words ever uttered to inspire you.

1. Beethoven

Friends applaud, the comedy is over.

Grand piano with words ‘Friends applaud, the comedy is finished’ Ludwig van Beethoven

These are the much-disputed last words of the German composer Ludwig Van Beethoven.

The phrase was typically used to end a performance of ‘commedia dell'arte’ (an Italian comedy play) in Beethoven’s day.

The composer died in the middle of a thunderstorm on March 26, 1827, after a long illness. Just two days after his death, souvenir hunters were already snipping off locks of his famously wild hair.

One lock of that hair eventually reached a laboratory in the States, revealing that Beethoven had lead poisoning.

2. Marie Antoinette

“Pardon me sir. I meant not to do it.”

Portrait of Marie Antoinette

The last words of Marie Antoinette, extravagant wife of Louis XVI of France – who, according to rumour, had dismissed starving peasants with a flippant “let them eat cake”.

At the height of the French revolution, Louis and Marie were charged with treason and sentenced to the guillotine.

While on the scaffold, she accidentally stepped on her executioner’s foot and gave him the respectful apology that became her last words. Seconds later, he chopped off her head.

3. James Donald French

How’s this for your headline? ‘French Fries!

Black and white mugshot of James Donald French

The last words of James Donald French, a convicted murderer and the last criminal ever to be executed under the death penalty in Oklahoma.

After killing a cellmate, he was sentenced to death by electrocution.

In the death chamber, he shouted these words to the members of the press who were there to witness his execution.

4. Salvador Allende

These are my last words, and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in vain. I am certain that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice and treason.

Black and white photo of Salvador Allende

Chilean president Salvador Allende died during the military coup of 1973, led by Augusto Pinochet.

Allende gave his farewell speech on live radio, with the sound of gunfire clearly audible in the background.

Shortly afterwards, it was announced he had “gone to war with an AK-47 rifle”. In other words, he’d committed suicide, although his supporters were convinced he’d been assassinated.

The gun he used was supposedly a gift from his friend, Fidel Castro.

5. Nostradamus

Tomorrow at sunrise I shall no longer be here

Calendar with words – Tomorrow I shall no longer be here - Nostradamus

Whatever your views on Nostradamus’ powers as a prophet, his last words show he certainly managed to predict his own death.

The sixteenth century seer was found dead the morning after uttering these words to his secretary.

His visions (called quatrains) contain names, dates, places and events, as well as symbolism and metaphor. This leaves them open to interpretation, meaning they are still the subject of heated debate today.

On the day of his death, Nostradamus was working on a quatrain about the end of the world.

6. Humphrey Bogart

I should have never switched from Scotch to martinis.

Calendar with words – ‘I should have never switched from Scotch to Martinis’ Humphrey Bogart

These are the witty last words of Hollywood legend Humphrey Bogart.

The founding member of the hard-drinking, heavy-smoking Rat Pack, he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in 1954. But he did little about it until it was too late.

On his deathbed in January 1957, Bogart uttered this immortal line to his wife, Lauren Bacall, and their children. He died just a few seconds later, aged 57.

7. John Barrymore

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

Black and white photo of John Barrymore

The last words of John Barrymore, the American actor of stage, screen and radio, who bridged the silent and sound era.

He came from a theatrical dynasty and was the paternal grandfather of actress Drew Barrymore.

A heavy smoker and drinker, in 1942 Barrymore collapsed while appearing on Rudy Vallee's radio show and died later the same day.

According to Errol Flynn's memoirs, 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 from The Cock and Bull Bar – but many dispute this tale.

8. Winston Churchill

I’m bored with it all.

Black and white photo of Sir Winston Churchill

The last words from the mouth of statesman and great orator, Winston Churchill, before slipping in to a coma. He died nine days later.

Considered one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th century, Churchill's speeches are often credited with mobilising the embattled British to “never give up” – and to eventually win the Second World War.

But, aged 90, after a lifetime of tremendous achievement and unstinting service to his country, he finally surrendered.

9. Dominique Bouhours

I am about to – or I am going to – die: either expression is correct.

Portrait of Dominique Bouhours

The last words of legendary French grammarian Dominique Bouhours certainly immortalised his skills.

A tremendous wit, he never failed to demonstrate his proficiency in all aspects of grammar, seizing the opportunity to show off even on his death bed in 1902.

The question is…did he also dictate how his last words should be punctuated?

10. Bob Marley

Money can't buy life.

Portrait of Bob Marley

Reggae legend Bob Marley uttered these final words to his son, Ziggy, in 1981.

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.

Marley’s death was 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.

Sources:

Beethoven | Marie Antoinette | James D French | Salvador Allende | Nostradamus | Humphrey Bogart | John Barrymore | Winston Churchill | Dominique Bouhours | Bob Marley

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