Famous last words are famous for a reason. Usually because they make you ponder, sometimes because they make you laugh. Sometimes, the most poignant quotes come from the strangest of places.
“Do you think God stays in heaven, cause he too, fears what he’s created?”
A quote that suggests it came from a great thinker. A mind for an era perhaps – it sounds like something Voltaire may have said.
Well, actually, it comes from Spy Kids 2.
Don’t worry, the quotes I’ve chosen below, are in part because of the people who uttered the words, and none are Spy Kids quotes. These are my choices as the greatest famous last words throughout history.
Nostradamus (b. 1503) was famous for making eerily accurate predictions of events centuries into the future. His deliberately cryptic writings, which have been both interpreted and misinterpreted many times over, allegedly predicted the rise of Hitler, the atom bomb and 9/11, amongst other things.
It is fitting then, that Nostradamus’ final words were a prediction of his own death. Although how well this showed his foresight is debateable – considering he knew he was actively dying at this point.
His last words: “You will not find me alive at sunrise”.
6. Karl Marx
It turns out, fittingly, that philosophers have some of the best famous last words. The second entry on this list is Karl Marx, my personal favourite final words ever spoken.
Most people have heard of the theory of Marxism, well, there would be no Marxism without Karl Marx and his famous pamphlet ‘The Communist Manifesto’, advocating for the downfall of capitalism. Whilst opinions on his beliefs may be mixed, he is arguably still one of the most famous and influential figures to have ever existed – and sharp witted to boot.
Upon the eve of his death upon being asked if he had any last words, he merely roared:
“Go on, get out, last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”
5. La Pola
La Pola was a Colombian revolutionary, who incidentally also features in my 7 Badass Women from History article. This is because her last words were as brilliant and unafraid as the rest of her exploits during her short life.
Living in the main town of the revolution, she worked as a spy before her capture. Disguised as a seamstress, she worked from the HQ of the revolutionists, sending messages, passing on information she learnt, and fighting for the revolutionary cause.
She was captured and eventually executed alongside her brother. Her final words were a rallying cry still remembered in Colombia today.
“I have more than enough courage to suffer this death and a thousand more. Do not forget my example.”
Voltire was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher.
He was known for his wit and frequent criticism of the Catholic Church – which may explain some of the thought behind his last words. Throughout his life he satirised intolerance and religious rhetoric through his writings, and in turn advocated for civil liberties. In other words, he was well before his time.
The accounts on his deathbed have varied, but my particular favourite – and not wholly disproven – includes some fantastic last words which sum up the writer himself perfectly.
When asked by an attending priest if he would like to renounce Satan, he simply replied: “Now is not the time to make new enemies.”
3. Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford was a darling of the golden age of Hollywood. She starred in countless movies and won an Oscar for her performance in Mildred Pierce.
Joan Crawford was a woman who illegally adopted as a single mother, directed her own career and was unafraid to say what she thought. She was known for both her many lovers, and fast quips; making it extremely fitting that her final words were as cutting as her earlier sassy remarks.
As her housekeeper prayed by her side Joan mustered the last of her strength to tell her off; her last words: “Dammit, don’t you dare ask God to help me!”
2. George Appel
George Appel makes this list for dry sarcastic wit alone. Unlike the others on this list he is not a celebrity or a name you should necessarily recognise, however he has earned his place in history on the strength of his last words alone.
George Appel was a criminal. Convicted of the shooting of a Police Lieutenant, his sentence was the electric chair.
On August 9th, 1928, Appel was due to be executed. As is customary, he was asked if he had any last words before they flipped the switch. It was then he uttered a sentence that would forever be immortalised as some truly great last words.
“Well gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel.”
1. Sophie Scholl
Sophie Scholl is one of the more tragic entries on this list. She and her friends lived in 1939 Germany and bravely opposed the Nazi regime, forming what was known as the White Rose Group. She was only 21 when she died.
The White Rose Group worked as non-violent opposition to the Nazis, writing and disseminating information about the truth of the regime and urging ordinary Germans to work to undermine it.
Sophie was later caught, along with her brother and friend, and tragically executed for high treason. Her last words encompass the bravery of those that worked to fight the Nazi regime from within the country. They have not been forgotten.
“Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go… What does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”