Last words have always captivated our minds, and with good reason. What was that departing soul seeing, hearing and experiencing as they left the Earthly realm? Final words can be profound, uplifting, mundane, absurd, and even hilarious, but they all have one thing in common. They are reminders of the impermanence of life, and precursors to the question that, perhaps, we should all ask ourselves at some point: "How would I choose my words if I knew death was imminent?" Here are 20 last words that have gone down in history.
1. Harriet Tubman
In 1913, as abolitionist Harriet Tubman was dying, she gathered her family around and they all sang together. Her last words were, “Swing low, sweet chariot.”
2. Leonardo da Vinci
The very modest dying words of this profoundly talented artist and inventor were, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” Leo, I'd say you're being a little too hard on yourself!
3. Bessie Smith
Legendary blues singer Bessie Smith left this Earth saying, “I’m going, but I’m going in the name of the Lord.” Amen!
4. Elvis Presley
According to his then fiancé Ginger Alden, the King of Rock had a particularly bad night of sleeplessness in 1977. Presley told Alden, "I'm going to the bathroom to read." He was found unresponsive in the bathroom shortly after.
A true seer, Nostradamus predicted, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.” And he was absolutely right.
6. Gustav Mahler
Composer Gustav Mahler died in bed, conducting an imaginary orchestra. His last word was, “Mozart!” Dramatic, no?
7. Marie Antoinette
After stepping on her executioner’s foot as she made her way to the guillotine, Marie uttered politely “pardonnez-moi, monsieur.” And it was off with her head.
8. Sir Isaac Newton
Physicist Sir Isaac Newton delivered a humble yet eloquent last remark, saying “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.”
9. Louise-Marie-Thérèse de Saint Maurice
Louise-Marie-Thérèse de Saint Maurice, Comtesse de Vercellis apparently cut the cheese while she was dying. She said, “Good. A woman who can fart is not dead.” Talk about dark humor!
10. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Sherlock Holmes author died poetically at age 71 in his garden. He turned to his wife and said, “You are wonderful,” then clutched his chest and passed away.
11. T.S. Eliot
In 1965, writer T.S. Eliot whispered but one word as he died: “Valerie,” the name of his wife.
12. Vince Lombardi
Before the famous football coach died of cancer in 1970, he turned to his wife Marie and said, “Happy anniversary. I love you.”
13. John Wayne
Beloved actor John Wayne died at age 72 in 1979. He turned to his wife and comforted her saying, “Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you." So sweet.
14. Ernest Hemingway
Before ending his life in 1961, Ernest Hemingway told his wife Mary, “Goodnight my kitten.” Simple, but sweet.
15. Truman Capote
The famous writer's last mantra was: “Mama— Mama— Mama.”
16. Emily Dickinson
Ever the poet, Emily Dickinson died with the words, “I must go in, for the fog is rising.”
17. Alfred Hitchock
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.” What a classy, witty man, even on his way out.
18. Eugene O’Neill
The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright was born in a hotel room in what is now Times Square in New York City. He died in a Boston hotel, at age 65. His last words? “I knew it! I knew it! Born in a hotel room and, goddamn it, dying in a hotel room.”
19. Josephine Baker
Dancer, singer and actress Josephine Baker was always the life of the party. On the last night of her life, she left a party saying, “Oh, you young people act like old men. You are no fun.”
20. Steve Jobs
According to the Apple founder's sister Mona, Steve Job's last words were filled with wonder: "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow."