People often wonder what famous figures from history said just before they died. In this article, we will take a look at the last words spoken by ten historical figures and the story behind those words.
1. Winston Churchill
“I am bored with it all.”
After suffering a severe stroke on January 10th, 1965, Winston Churchill’s last words were uttered to his son-in-law Christopher Soames on January 15th, 1965, after opening his eyes for a very short period of time. Churchill did not speak again and remained in a coma until his death at the age of 90 on January 24th, 1965.
2. Napoleon Bonaparte
“La France, l’armée, tête d’armée, Joséphine.” (France, the army, head of the army, Joséphine.)
There is some debate over the last words of Napoleon Bonaparte. The most widely repeated final words (seen above) were published in the book History of the Captivity of Napoleon at St. Helena by General Charles-Tristan, Marquis de Montholon, who was with Napoleon when he died. These final words were spoken at 2 am on May 5th, 1821, just a few hours before he died at the age of 51. Some other witnesses to Napoleon’s death reported hearing different words, such as references to his son and retreating.
3. Mahatma Gandhi
On January 30th, 1948, while on his way to a prayer meeting, 78-year-old Mahatma Gandhi was shot three times at point-blank range by Nathuram Godse. While lying on the floor, it was reported that Gandhi spoke his final words, “Hey Ram.” He was carried to his room and died within 30 minutes. There has also been some disagreement as to whether or not these words were actually said; in 2006, Venkita Kalyanam, an aide of Mahatma Gandhi who was present at the assassination, was reported to have said that Gandhi did not say anything when he was shot. However, in 2018, he clarified that he didn’t hear Gandhi say “Hey Ram” due to the commotion, but it is possible that these words were said.
4. Vincent van Gogh
“La tristesse durera toujours.” (The sadness will last forever.)
Vincent van Gogh shot himself in the stomach on July 27th, 1890, in a wheat field in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, France, and returned to his room at the Auberge Ravoux, where he would die in bed two days later from the self-inflicted wound. Vincent’s brother Theo was alerted of the situation and arrived at the inn in the afternoon of the 28th. Theo sat with him until Vincent’s death at around 1:30 am on the 29th. In a letter to their sister Elisabeth van Gogh, Theo wrote what he believed were Vincent van Gogh’s last words: ‘He himself wanted to die, when I sat at his bedside and said that we would try to get him better and that we hoped that he would then be spared this kind of despair, he said, “La tristesse durera toujours” [The sadness will last forever]. I understood what he wanted to say with those words. A few moments later he felt suffocated and within one minute he closed his eyes. A great rest came over him from which he did not come to life again.’
5. George Washington
While on his deathbed, 67-year-old George Washington uttered his last words to his personal secretary Tobias Lear. At about 10 pm on December 14th, 1799, 1st President of the United States George Washington said to Lear “I am just going! Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead. Do you understand me?” Then when Lear agreed to do as he wished, Washington spoke his last words “Tis Well.” Less than an hour later, Washington died.
6. Elvis Presley
“Okay, I won’t.”
According to Elvis’ fiancee Ginger Alden, Elvis Presley’s last words were said to her at around 9 am on August 16th, 1977. Elvis was having trouble sleeping, so he decided to go and read in the bathroom. Alden warned him not to fall asleep in the bathroom, and he responded with what are believed to be his final words, “Okay, I won’t.” Ginger Alden awoke at around 2 pm to find Elvis Presley unresponsive on the floor of the bathroom. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful, and he was pronounced dead at 3:30 pm at the hospital.
7. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Ben, make sure you play ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’ in the meeting tonight, Play it real pretty.”
According to biographer Taylor Branch in his book At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68, Martin Luther King Jr’s last words were spoken to musician Ben Branch just moments before King was shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennesse, on April 4th, 1968. Ben Branch, who led the Breadbasket Orchestra and Chair, and was due to perform at an event later on in the evening, was being reintroduced to MLK when King asked him to play the gospel song ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’ at the event.
8. Ludwig van Beethoven
“Schade, schade – zu spät!” (Pity, pity – too late!)
The final months of Beethoven’s life were spent bedridden following a case of pneumonia contracted during a return journey to Vienna in December 1826. He died at the age of 56 on March 26th, 1827, from cirrhosis of the liver. Ludwig van Beethoven’s last words were uttered at around 1 pm on March 24th, 1827, when a gift shipment of wine arrived, and some of the bottles were placed on a table near his bed. Some of the wine was given to him in spoonfuls for as long as he could swallow, and he fell unconscious in the evening, never to awake again.
9. Franklin D. Roosevelt
“We have fifteen more minutes more to work.“
There is some debate over the last words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff was painting Roosevelt’s portrait at the time that he fell unconscious, and in her memoir, she stated that the last words from FDR were “We have fifteen more minutes more to work.” These words were said to a butler who was beginning to prepare the room for dining. However, some say that just before he fell unconscious, he said to one of his cousins, “I have a terrific headache.” In her memoir, Elizabeth Shoumatoff points out that ‘[she] never heard him say anything about a headache as was reported often in other descriptions of his last moments.’ Roosevelt did not regain consciousness and died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12th, 1945, at the age of 63.
“Crito, I owe the sacrifice of a rooster to Asklepios; will you pay that debt and not neglect to do so?“
The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was sentenced to death for impiety against the pantheon of Athens and the corruption of youth, and was forced to commit suicide by consuming a beverage made from the highly poisonous plant hemlock. Socrates’ last words were spoken after drinking the beverage while waiting for the poison to kill him in a prison surrounded by friends and followers. His last words were directed at one of his friends named Crito. Asklepios was a Greek hero and God of medicine who had the power to bring the dead back to life. Crito responded to Socrates with, “I will make it so, and, tell me, is there anything else?” but Socrates did not reply.
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