Famous Last Words

The Final Rumblings of Renowned People

BY: Michael Arkin

When we think about people’s dying words, we typically imagine heroic exclamations that sum up a life or a life’s work. Something along the lines of Patrick Henry’s infamous, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Personally, I have given the matter some thought and although I hope it is many years in the future, my last works may very well be, “Is that all there is?”

As we contemplate what to say when our own time comes, lest we not forget the bon mots that have captured the essence of some of history’s most illustrious people.

Whilst Frank Sinatra lay dying, he didn’t proclaim that he had done it his way. The Chairman of the Board said, “I’m losing it.”

When legendary actress Tallulah Bankhead was approaching her last breath, a nurse asked if there was anything she needed. Allegedly, the star flounced her hair and said, “Codeine, bourbon.”

Surrounded by visitors who crowded around his deathbed, author O. Henry suddenly stopped breathing. Seeing that respiration had ceased, one of his friends suggested, “Touch his feet, nobody ever died with warm feet”. Allegedly at that moment the writer opened his eyes and said, “Joan of Arc did.”

We all hope that when our time comes, we will be surrounded by loved ones in a calm, soothing setting. Apparently, that was not the case for Oscar Wilde who died in Paris in room 16 of the L’Hotel d’Alsace. Amid the florid décor he is said to have remarked, “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do.”

Contrary to popular belief, Marie Antoinette’s parting words were not, “Let them eat cake,” but “Pardon me sir, I did not do it on purpose,” which one might assume referred to her part in creating a class struggle that led to the French Revolution. In reality her humble apology was muttered to her executioner after accidentally stepping on his foot.

Despite her exotic life and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her disappearance and unverified death, aviatrix Amelia Earhart’s final words were downright tactical: “Gas is running low.”

Famed director Alfred Hitchcock was more philosophical although in keeping with his larger-than-life persona, slightly tongue-in-cheek. At the end of his life he said, “One never know the ending. One has to die to know exactly what happens after death, although Catholics have their hopes.”

While what happens at the moment of death remains the ultimate mystery, many people react to the act of dying. Diana, Princess of Wales was one of them. It is reported that her last words, spoken to rescue workers, were: “My God, what’s happened?”

For some, death provides the chance to be reunited with loved ones. That certainly was the case for Yankee slugger, Joe DiMaggio, who said, “I’ll finally get to see Marilyn” referring to his ex-wife, screen legend Marilyn Monroe.

The King, Elvis Presley, is reported to have told his entourage, “I’m going to the bathroom to read.”

In true Mommie Dearest style, Joan Crawford scolded her housekeeper, who was praying at her bedside. “Damn it! Don’t you dare ask God to help me!”

According to his sister, Apple’s Steve Job just said, “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

While we never know when the grim reaper will call us, if we remember anything from the last words of those who have predeceased us, let it be from musician George Harrison who urged us to “Love one another.”