Vail Valley Voices: Those famous last words
Vail, CO, Colorado
Famous last words.
It’s a common expression. But have you ever really thought about it literally?
Everybody is going to die. I don’t mean a word of this as morbid. We will all utter last words. But what will be on our minds in that final moment?
It might not be a bad idea to give it a little thought instead of just leaving it to chance. No one wants to be remembered for “Duh …”
Of course, some don’t know when their words are likely to be their last, which admittedly can complicate things.
Jesus probably knew that “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” would be his last words, whereas Princess Diana probably had no idea that “My God! What’s happened?” would be hers.
Sept. 11 Flight 93 hero Todd Beamer couldn’t have guessed that his declaration “Let’s roll” would inspire a nation and serve as a watch cry for American patriotism.
JFK’s last were the ironic “No, you certainly can’t” in response to Gov. Connelly’s wife commenting to him in the convertible that fateful morning: “You certainly can’t say that the people of Dallas haven’t given you a nice welcome, Mr. President.” Ouch.
It’s kind of interesting, the thoughts and epitaphs of various public figures as they left this earth.
Maybe you’ll be the sort to be preoccupied with your work to the very end.
Actor Edmund Gwenn (Kris Kringle in the original “Miracle on 34th Street”) was asked on his deathbed if it was hard facing death. His last words were “Death is easy. … Comedy is hard.”
Showman P.T. Barnum’s closing words were “How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?” while hotel magnate Conrad Hilton’s final thought was “Leave the shower curtain on the inside of the tub.” And “Days of our Lives” writer Charles Gussman departed with “And now, for a final word from our sponsor.”
Maybe you’ll have your vices on your mind.
Actress Tallulah Bankhead was known for her wit and penchant for debauchery. As she sat in church one Sunday, the priest made a processional up the aisle swinging incense and as he passed Miss Bankhead, she whispered to him: “I love your dress, darling, but your purse is on fire.” Her foggy final words: “Codeine … bourbon.”
Similarly, Humphrey Bogart’s were “I should never have switched from scotch to martinis.”
Or maybe you’re the dramatic type. If so, consider flamboyant modern dancer Isadora Duncan’s incredibly theatrical demise.
Driving off in a roadster in France she called out “Adieu, mes amis. Je vais la gloire.” (“Farewell, my friends. I go to glory!”) Moments later, her very long and dramatically flowing scarf wrapped itself around the axle of the vehicle, snapped her neck and hurled her out of the car.
You could try something like that.
If you’re lucky, Andrew Lloyd Webber will turn your immortal last words into a song, as he did with Eva Peron’s “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.”
Very cool … unless Madonna happens to be the one to sing (and I use that term loosely) them for you.
Death Row apparently inspires dark humor. Asked if he had any final requests before going in front of a firing squad, convict James Rodgers replied: “Yes … a bullet-proof vest.”
As they sat in the electric chair, George Appel commented, “Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel” and James French quipped “Hey, fellas! How about this for a headline for tomorrow’s paper? ‘French fries’!”
Terminal illness can undoubtedly make you cranky, as it apparently did with Joan Crawford. Or maybe she was just terminally cranky. Her last snap was to a housekeeper praying aloud for Miss Crawford’s soul: “Damn it! Don’t you dare ask God to help me!”
Probably not the smartest thing to have said, since moments later she was dead.
Perhaps you would prefer to leave your loved ones with a smile on their faces like Oscar Wilde. Looking around the room from his sick bed, he announced, “Either this wallpaper goes or I do.”
Quentin Crisp maintained that the secret of life is to be content at the end. “That as you are lying on your deathbed breathing your last, you can honestly say that everything you have wanted to do or say or be you have done and said and been.”
In that light, you can’t beat the following:
“Is everybody happy? I want everybody to be happy. I know I’m happy.” (Ethel Barrymore)
“I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.” (Errol Flynn)
“Oh, do not cry. Be good children and we will all meet in heaven.” (Andrew Jackson)
“I love you Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.” (James K. Polk, to his wife)
The only thing you don’t want to do is fizzle at the end like Pancho Villa. Ignominiously cut down by a sniper, he whispered to a compatriot: “Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.”
Maybe he should have given it a little more thought.
David Dillon lives in Eagle.
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