21 Famous Last Words—And The Stories Behind Them

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Do you ever wonder what you’ll be remembered for? The things you do during your life certainly make a big impact on those around you. But what about your last words? Will anyone remember you for the last things you say? And if your last words are inscribed into your loved ones’ memories, what would you want them to be? Should final sayings be thoughtful and serious? Funny and lighthearted? Loving and sentimental? 

You’ll likely spend more time wondering what to say when someone dies than what your last words will be. The last things people say can tell us a lot about their priorities and the way they lived. Here are 21 people who used their famous last words to share their love, inspire others, bring about a smile, make someone laugh, and dismiss deathbed etiquette.

These are the words we remember for generations to come, long after these souls have departed the earth. Whether they're honored at an in-person, traditional funeral service or with a virtual event on GatheringUs, remembrance has to do with how we live and how we die. 

1. “You are wonderful.” — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Doyle is best known for penning the literary hero we all know as Sherlock Holmes. Doyle married twice and, while the death of his first wife sent him into a bout of depression, his second marriage returned joy to his life. Upon his own death bed, Doyle turned to his second wife and told her how much she meant to him.

2. “Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.” — John Wayne

Known and loved by all as the silver screen cowboy, John Wayne was larger than life. Much the same off-screen as on, he loved drinks, friends, and his family. While on his deathbed, his family gathered around. Concerned that Wayne didn’t know who they were due to his deteriorating condition, his daughter, Aissa, asked if he knew who she was. He did. 

3. “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.” — Sir Isaac Newton

Upon his death, Sir Isaac Newton chose not to examine his many scientific discoveries or muse about his place in history. Instead, he looked to all that was left to be discovered and stood in awe of the magnificence of the world.

4. “I am just going outside and may be some time.” — Captain Lawrence Oates

Captain Lawrence Oates served his country during an Antarctic exploration. Due to the frigid, harsh conditions, Oates contracted a severe case of frostbite. Knowing his condition put his entire party at risk due to delays, he bravely sacrificed himself in order to save his crew. He decided to take a walk to never return.

5. “Let’s roll.” — Todd Beamer

Aboard Flight 93 from Newark, NJ on September 11, 2001, it didn’t take long for passengers and crew to realize their flight would not be normal. Calling the airplane telephone operator, Todd Beamer discussed what they were about to do — take down the hijackers of their plane. After a prayer, he was ready. Turning to his fellow passengers, he gave the affirmative that put their plan into action.

6. “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” — Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale was a beloved friend and teacher who turned into a spy for America during the Revolutionary War. He was patriotic to the core and believed in America as a land of opportunity. During a spy mission, he was caught. Just before the British hung him, he proudly affirmed he would do it all again for the sake of his country.

7. “I expect the summons very soon. I have tried to discharge all my duties faithfully. I regret nothing, but I am sorry that I am about to leave my friends.” — Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States

Zachary Taylor had plenty of responsibility. In the end, however, he looked upon his life with contentment and satisfaction, sorry only to have no more time with those he loved. 

8. “This is the last of earth. I am content.” — John Quincy Adams, former President of the United States

John Quincy Adams served for one term as U.S. President and when he reached the end of his life, he looked back at his accomplishments and saw nothing he’d want to change. 

9. “I want to go. I am ready to go. God take me.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower, former President of the United States

When it came time for President Eisenhower to bid his family goodbye, he approached the time with a sense of readiness. His work on earth had been accomplished and he was ready to depart one life for the next.

10. “I told you I was ill.” — Spike Milligan

Famous Irish comedian Spike Milligan enjoyed giving crowds a laugh no matter where he went. He enjoyed it so much, in fact, that he used his headstone to deliver his final joke.

11. “Well boys, you’ve done your duty and done it well. I ask no more of you. I release you. You know the rule of the sea. It’s every man for himself now, and God bless you.” — Captain Edward Smith of HMS Titanic

Captain Edward Smith hit both the high and low of his career when chosen to pilot the ill-fated Titanic voyage. Dedicated to his duty until the last, he ensured as many wives and children were safe as possible, then released his crew to do their best to survive the coming moments. Captain Smith perished with the ship.

12. “That was a great game of golf, fellers.” — Bing Crosby

Known for his beautiful crooning voice, his music struck a chord with people around the world. He enjoyed golf just as much as singing. During a vacation, he finished playing 18 holes of golf, even though his doctor told him to stop at nine. Twenty minutes later, he died of a heart attack. He clearly didn’t regret playing the back nine. 

13. “I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.” — Errol Flynn

Errol Flynn was an Australian-born actor who graced the silver screen as a romantic hero during the golden age of Hollywood. He enjoyed every minute of his career and, though his life was cut short at age 50, he had no regrets.

14. “Make the world better.” — Lucy Stone

Lucy lived a dynamic life as a suffragist, abolitionist, orator, women’s rights advocate and promoter. Every action she took was made in order to bring justice and hope to minority groups. Her last words encourage all of us to do the same.

15. “Our destiny is to build a better future for our countries, a safe future for our children. We have to give them something better than what we inherited.” — Hafez al-Assad

Assad is the longest-serving Syrian head of state, performing the job of president from 1971 to 2000. His last words reflect his belief in the need to serve his country and the world for a better tomorrow.

16. “Nancy, I want you to know my last thoughts are of you.” — P.T. Barnum

Barnum is most known for his contribution to popularizing the circus with his business partner James Bailey. He was an avid businessman who loved entertaining crowds of young and old alike. But more than his love for the circus was his love for his wife.

17. “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP” — Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy, known for playing the part of Spock in “Star Trek,” was a man dedicated to his friends, family, and fans. For his final tweet to the world, he shared the above pearl of wisdom and signed off with the now-famous blessing — “Live long and prosper.”

18. “I’d rather be skiing.” — Stan Laurel

Stan, a well-known comedian in his day, was a contemporary of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Humorous on-stage and off, he used his final moments on earth to crack a joke and make his nurse smile.

19. “I have tried so hard to do right.” — Grover Cleveland, former President of the United States

Grover Cleveland had a difficult presidency, to say the least. During his tenure, he led the nation through the worst depression of that time, before the crash of 1929. He was a man of principle and his last words reflected his dedication to the nation he loved.

20. “I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.” — James K. Polk, former President of the United States

After doing his best to run the country, the last thoughts on James K. Polk’s mind were not of his achievements or the nation. He simply wanted to tell the one he loved just how deeply he loved her.

21. “Thank God I gave up my life so that Helen might live. God help her to live without me when I go.” — Annie Sullivan

The world knows about Hellen Keller, the girl born deaf and blind who championed for increasing the rights of those with special needs. But what you may not know is that without her lifelong teacher, Annie Sullivan, she would have never learned to communicate. Clearly, she viewed her life’s work as well worth it.

How Will You Will Be Remembered?

Whether your final words are happy, sad, serious, funny, wisdom-filled, or downright witty, one thing remains true. You’ll be remembered for leaving a legacy and thought of long after you say your last goodbye.

Taking the time to consider your final wishes, estate plan, and more is an important part of remembrance. With tools like Trust & Will, it's possible to create a legal online will in minutes. From there, planning is a piece of cake. How do you want to be remembered when you're gone? Your final words are only one part of your story. 


Sources

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