The Most Famous Last Words And Who Spoke Them

“Famous last words.” We’ve all heard that phrase before. Our notes say that the phrase refers to something said that proves wrong or inappropriate, or it might be a phrase used to express disbelief, rejection, or self-deprecation. It can also serve as a somewhat ironic reference to the final deathbed utterances of famous people—which are often full of legend and conflicting stories.

We've compiled some famous last words here, and are taking this opportunity to (what else?) talk about the words that inspired them.

Harriet Tubman

The most well-known leader of the underground railroad, Harriet Tubman helped more than 70 people who were enslaved find freedom. However, she helped more than 750 people who were enslaved during the Civil War in general.

She died in 1913 at the age of 91, after leading a full life of activism and heroism. Her last words were, "I go to prepare a place for you." As in life, Harriet was preparing to look out for others in death, too.

First recorded in 1520–30, prepare came from the Latin word praeparāre meaning "to make ready beforehand." Synonyms of prepare are develop, plan, strengthen, and supply.

Beethoven

There are multiple stories about Beethoven’s now-famous last words. One report said he stated, “I will hear in Heaven.” Another report attributed Plaudite, amici, comedia finita est to the famed composer ("Applaud, friends, the comedy is finished"). And yet another story says someone brought him a dozen bottles of wine, to which he replied, “Pity, pity, too late.”

Invoking pity made sense, as the word means "a cause or reason for sorrow or regret" and is ultimately derived from the Latin word pietās ("piety"). An ending would also call to mind synonyms for pity, such as mercysorrow, and condolence.

Nostradamus

The prognosticator was famous for his wild predictions. His last words were, reportedly, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.” Whether he said it or not, he would have been right.

First recorded around 1540, predict is based on the Latin word for "to foretell," praedīcere. If you predict, you also prognosticateadumbrate, or divine. (More synonyms here.)

Malcolm X

Malcolm X was a renowned activist and Black civil rights leader in the 1950s and 1960s. Days before his death, he was interviewed saying, "I don’t worry, I’ll tell you. I’m a man who believed that I died 20 years ago, and I live like a man who is dead already. I have no fear whatsoever of anybody or anything."

On the day of his assassination though, it is actually unclear what his last words are. However, with new recorded footage surfacing of his speech to the Organization of Afro-American Unity, some believe they can hear him utter, "As-Salaamu-Alaikum," which is a Muslim greeting meaning "peace be upon you" in Arabic. He didn't even make it to the podium before gunfire erupted. He was 39 years old when he died.

Peace means "a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations," and was first recorded in 1125–75 from Middle English. Synonyms of peace include accord, friendship, and unity.

Steve Jobs

It's said that the Apple co-founder said before he passed away, “Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Oh, wow.” Wow is an all-purpose expression ("an exclamation of surprise, wonder, pleasure, or the like"), just like interjections hooray, egad, whoopee, and golly. Wow dates back to around 1890.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix had many names (born Johnny Allen and later renamed James Marshall by his father), but regardless of what he was called, his electric guitar style was one-of-a-kind, influential, and recognized around the world in the 1960s and beyond.

Fun fact: Jimi did not know how to read or write music, which makes his musical abilities even more impressive and astounding.

Jimi died in London in 1970 at only 27 years old. He wrote a poem on the even of his death titled "The Story of Life." The last lines of the poem read, "The story / Of life is quicker / Than the wink of an eye/ The story of love/ Is hello and goodbye/ Until we meet again."

Story is defined as "a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale." It was recorded in 1175–1225 from Middle English. Synonyms of story include adventure, fantasy, and tragedy.

John Lennon

Some last words are concise. In December 1980, the former (and always) Beatle was shot outside his apartment in New York City, by Mark David Chapman. He said simply, “I’m shot.”

Joe DiMaggio

Joltin’ Joe said as he died from lung cancer in 1999, “I finally get to see Marilyn.” The Yankee Clipper was referring to his wife Marilyn Monroe, who had died in 1962. If you're finally with your beloved, pet, or maker, you're "at the final point or moment; in the end." You might also say you're there at last or at long last.

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo was a brilliant Mexican painter, known for her uncompromising folk art style and her self-portraits. She represented indigenous Mexican culture and the female form promoting feminism and culture in Mexico and abroad.

Frida Kahlo died on July 3, 1954, in what is thought of as death by suicide. She was 49 years old. Her last words were found in her journal. She wrote, “I hope the exit is joyful and hope never to come back.”

The word exit comes partly from the Latin word exitus meaning "act or means of going out." Synonyms for exit include farewell, exodus, and demise.

Humphrey Bogart

One source states that as his wife Lauren Bacall left their house to go pick up their kids, equally legendary actor Humphrey Bogart said, “Goodbye, kid. Hurry back.” Another report says that Bogart said this right before he died: “I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis.”

There are so many ways to say goodbye, including adieu, Godspeed, and doodle-oo. But complaining about martinis is a much more specific farewell!

Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher

Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher died days apart from each other. Daughter Carrie Fisher suffered a heart attack on a plane in December 2016 and died four days later. Carrie was 60 years old. One day after Carrie passed, her mother Debbie suffered a stroke and also passed away. Debbie was 84 years old. Debbie's last words were, "I want to be with Carrie."

Carrie's last words were unknown but recently her brother found a note she left in a drawer that read, "I am dead. How are you? I’ll see you soon … I would call and tell you what this is like, but there is no reception up here." She followed that with, "Cut. New scene, new setup, new heavenly location. I have finally got the part that I have been rehearsing for all my life. God gave me the part. This is the end of the road I have been touring on all my life."

Groucho Marx

When famed comic Groucho Marx was dying, he is said to have uttered, “This is no way to live!” With his sense of humor well understood, we wonder if he hoped to have someone standing by with a rimshot for that one. Live is one of our oldest words, stemming from the Old English lifian ("to be, be alive, have life; continue in life; to experience").

If you live, you endure, draw breath, or exist. (More synonyms here.)

What other words have lived for centuries upon centuries? Click here to read about more of English's oldest words.

Joseph Wright

This is Joseph Wright, who edited the English Dialect Dictionary. It's reported that his last word was, predictably, “Dictionary.” We like that one.

The word dictionary (as Joseph undoubtedly knew) is ultimately derived from the Latin word dictio ("word"). Talk about throwing us a softball.

And with that, we conclude this slideshow. It has come to an end, or halted, terminated, and wrapped up.