Final words from famous people

picture of a man with a briefcase

They might be wise or just trying to be witty, but whatever the intention – we can learn a lot about famous people from their last words. Here are a few favourites from people in the public eye who are no longer with us.

Offering advice

It seems that many people are keen to give out life lessons and advice as they approach their final moments. A recent survey found that 83% of the 2,000-plus adults questioned had received final words of advice from their loved ones:

Famous people have often exhibited the same need to pass on their wisdom. According to author Charles Dickens’ obituary, which was published in The Times, his final words were directed to his offspring: “Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fulfilled all the rules of art.”

While philosopher Karl Marx championed the need for brevity – offering advice with his last words while at the same time undermining the importance that we sometimes bestow on them: “Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”

However, we think last words are worth listening to – here are some of our favourites.

Deathbed humour

Humphrey Bogart – actor: “I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.”

 

Oscar Wilde – author, playwright, diarist: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”

Intimation of what’s to come

 

Michel de Nostradamus – apothecary and prediction-maker: “You will not find me alive at sunrise.”

 

Emily Dickinson – poet: “I must go in, the fog is rising.”

Expressing humility

Sir Isaac Newton – mathematician, astronomer, and physicist: “I don’t know what I may seem to the world. But as to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than the ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

 

Leonardo da Vinci – Italian Renaissance polymath: “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”

Love: personal and public

Author of the Sherlock Holmes stories Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died in his garden, having turned to his wife and said: “You are wonderful.” While George Harrison, singer-songwriter and member of The Beatles, urged people to “love one another”, his last words were recorded by his wife.

Last requests

Leonard Marx, better known as Chico Marx and brother to Groucho, gave instructions to his wife: “Remember, honey, don’t forget what I told you. Put in my coffin a deck of cards, a mashie niblick [a golf club], and a pretty blonde.” While convicted murderer James W. Rodgers prepared to face a firing squad in Utah having uttered one final request: “Bring me a bullet-proof vest.”

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