A person’s last words tend to stick out in our minds. They might be a final, fond farewell from a loved one.
When we hear reports of the last words from famous people, we almost expect that those words will be a reflection of the life that person lived. We want comedians to get in one last one-liner. We want great leaders to dole out guidance one more time. When the day comes (hopefully in the distant future) for Kanye West to shuffle off this mortal coil, we will surely hope that he offers one more signature rant that combines insight and self-aggrandizement.
Here are ten individuals whose last words inspired us, amused us, or otherwise stuck in our collective memory.
10. Nostradamus – “Tomorrow, I shall no longer be here.”
Nostradamus, bane of rational people everywhere and source of innumerable conspiracy theories, is of course famous for his predictions. His critics will point out that his prophecies are so vague and so numerous that it is easy to find events that fulfill them. His final prediction was much different from the bulk of his work. It was short, specific, and correct. Maybe the tragedy here is that he finally learned how to properly put his predictions just as he ran out of time.
9. Robert Erskine Childers – “Take a step or two forward, lads. It will be easier that way.”
Erskine Childers (as he was generally known) was a writer and soldier, and he is perhaps best known as an Irish nationalist. He was born in Britain (with both British and Irish heritage) and fought for the British in the Boer War and World War I, but by 1916 he was an Irish republican. During the Irish Civil War, he was arrested by the Free State faction and executed by firing squad. Childers was apparently sanguine enough about the whole thing to give his executioners the advice quoted above.
8. Henry James – “So here it is at last, the expected thing.”
Henry James was perhaps the great realist in nineteenth century literature. In novels like The Portrait of a Lady and The Ambassadors he perfected his technique of focusing on the consciousness of his characters. His final words are very much in keeping with his literary approach, and they do make you wonder whether or not he planned them out ahead of time.
7. Sitting Bull – “I am not going. Do with me what you like. I am not going. Come on! Come on! Take action! Let’s go!”
Sitting Bull was the great leader of the Lakota people in the second half of the 1800’s. He famously led them to victory over George Custer in the Battle of Little Bighorn. In his later years he remained an influential leader, and the United States’ Indian Service tried to arrest him (on a reservation, no less). He uttered these words before he was killed, and his supporters fought with the Indian Service agents. The Indian Service made off with Sitting Bull’s remains, which were finally returned to his people in the 1950’s.