Just as people might ask what we would like to see on our tombstone, so the more fatalistic among us might already be planning our last words. But last words don’t have to be all doom and gloom – they can be witty, profound, or just plain absurd.
Of course, it’s all a matter of opinions as to whether you want to go out with a laugh or with a tear. And there’s much debate about the authenticity of many last words, with Admiral Nelson’s “Kiss me, Hardy” being perhaps the most famously erroneous example (we’ll print the true one later). I’ve made every effort in this article to ensure that what people said is the truth, but I apologise in advance, to both you and them, if any of them turn out to be incorrect.
In each case I’ll provide a bit of background about the person to put their last words into context. So sit back and enjoy my favourite 10 Last Words to Die For, in no particular order – and then add your own in the comments section below.
1. Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)
Who Was He: Norwegian playwright, held to be the widest performed playwright after Shakespeare.
Career Highlights: Peer Gynt (1867), A Doll’s House (1879), Ghosts (1881) and Hedda Gabler (1890). He had a profound influence on moving theatre into more realistic territory, inspiring the works of Anton Chekhov, James Joyce and others within the Modernist movement.
Context of Last Words: Ibsen suffered a series of strokes in 1900 which left him unable to write. He spent the last six years of his life being cared for at his home in Christiania (now Oslo).
Last Words: “On the contrary!”, when his nurse remarked one morning that he was looking better.
2. William Sydney Porter (a.k.a. O. Henry) (1862-1910)
Who Was He: American author, known for his short stories.
Career Highlights: ‘The Cop and the Anthem’ (1904), ‘The Gift of the Magi’ (1906), ‘A Retrieved Reformation’ (1909) and ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’ (1910). ‘A Retrieved Reformation’ was adapted into Alias Jimmy Valentine (1928), one of MGM’s first full talkies, while ‘The Gift of the Magi’ has become a minor Christmas classic.
Context of Last Words: Like many writers, Porter was a heavy drinker, and eventually succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver. He died at his home shortly after his second wife, Sarah, had divorced him,
Last Words: “Turn up the lights. I don’t want to go home in the dark.”
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