These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath

Khalid Elhassan - February 4, 2024

Last words are tricky. Sometimes they can be sublime, like those of a religious martyr sentenced to burn at the stake. Amidst the flames, he still sought to comfort others. Sometimes they can be heroic, like the World War II antifascist resistance fighter who, with a noose around his neck at his public hanging, urged others to carry on the fight against the Nazis. Sometimes they’re unfortunately hilarious, like those of a nun who broke wind just before she died, and thought that a fart indicated that she was still good to go. She was not. Below are twenty five things about those and other last words from history.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
Sister Louise Marie-Therese, the Black Nun of Moret. Wikimedia

A French Queen’s Black Daughter?

There were relatively few black people in seventeenth and eighteenth century France. It is thus unsurprising that black French nun Louise Marie-Therese (circa 1658 – 1730) stood out. A Benedictine nun at the abbey of Moret-sur-Loing, she was also known as the Moores of Moret and the Black Nun of Moret. She attracted plenty of attention not only because of her skin color, but also because of some fascinating tales about her ancestry – some of which she herself helped spread. Among other things, Sister Marie-Therese was rumored to be the love child of Queen Maria Theresa of Spain, wife of King Louis XIV.

Her Majesty supposedly gave birth to a black daughter in 1664 – a birth that was hushed up, and the baby swiftly whisked away from the royal palace. It is a fascinating story, but it is highly unlikely to have been true. However, people like juicy and salacious stories, and as such, many believed that Sister Marie-Therese was illegitimate royalty. Whatever the truth of her birth, death finally claimed Sister Marie-Therese in 1730. She was bedridden on her last couple of days. In her final moments upon Earth, with death clearly upon her, she cut a loud fart. “Good“, she said, as she turned over. “A woman who can fart is not dead“. Unfortunately, those proved to be her last words. However, they were not the last sounds to issue from her. She immediately afterwards cut another huge fart, and promptly died.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
Jerome Irving Rodale. The New Republic

Few Last Words Are As Unfortunate As: ‘I’ve Decided to Live On and On’

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Jerome Irving Rodale made a name for himself as an organic farming advocate, and as a self-professed health expert. In reality, the man was a quack who rejected modern medicine, favored folk cures, and was an avowed anti-vaxxer long before that term became popular. However, quackery sells, and Rodale built a health publishing empire that included Today’s Health Magazine. He also wrote a book titled Happy People Rarely Get Cancer. Scientifically and medically speaking, most of what Rodale wrote was nonsense. It was nonsense that people liked to hear and read, though, and it got him on the cover of Time magazine – back when that actually mattered.

A few days later, he went on The Dick Cavett Show. There, among other things, he offered the host asparagus boiled in urine. It was a weird, but nonetheless entertaining segment. As Cavett recalled decades later, he made a mental note to invite him back. During the show, Rodale boasted of his robust health, and said things like “I’ve decided to live to be a hundred“, and concluded with “I am so healthy, I expect to live on and on“. They proved to be his last words. The next guest was New York Post columnist Pete Hamil, and as Cavett chatted with him, Rodale moved down the couch. Out of the blue, he made a loud snoring sound, and died then and there on the couch. The episode never aired.

 

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
Stjepan Filipovic’s defiance unto death. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

An Antifascist Hero’s Final Words Just As Powerful As His Life

From the hilarious to the heroic, and the last words of antifascist fighter Stjepan Filipovic. To come up with defiant final words against tyranny and oppression while at death’s door is badass. Then there is shouting defiance against tyranny and oppression while the oppressive tyrant’s noose is around one’s neck, which takes things to another level. Stjepan Filopivic managed to pull off the latter in WWII, when he shouted to a gathered crowd “Death to fascism! Freedom to the people!” with a Nazi noose around his neck. They were his last words on earth, just a split second before his execution.

Stjepan Filipovic was a Croatian who was born in 1916 in what became Yugoslavia after World War I. He left home when he was sixteen-years-old, and got a job as a metalworker. In 1937, he joined the local workers’ movement and became an activist. He was arrested for political activity, and was sentenced to a year in jail. His time behind bars only served to further radicalize him, and upon his release in 1940, he joined the Communist Party. He was radicalized even further when Germany invaded and conquered Yugoslavia in 1941.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
Pancho Villa. Correio do Povo

A Bandit Folk Hero Who Couldn’t Think of Anything To Say

Francisco “Pancho” Villa (1878 – 1923) was born into a family of sharecroppers in the Mexican state of Durango, and raised in poverty. He received some elementary education in early childhood, but had not progressed beyond basic literacy when his father died and he was forced to quit school and help his mother. Villa worked a variety of menial jobs, interspersed with stints of banditry with local gangs. At age sixteen, he reportedly killed his first man, a hacienda owner whom he accused of assaulting his sister. He then stole his victim’s horse and fled to the hills. They became his base for years to come as he turned to full time banditry. Captured in 1902, he was spared the death penalty, and inducted into the Mexican army instead. Soon thereafter, he killed an officer, stole his horse, deserted, and returned to banditry.

In 1910, when the Mexican Revolution began, Villa was persuaded that he could fight for the people by directing his banditry against hacienda owners. He turned out to be good at the revolution’s style of warfare, and was instrumental in defeating the government’s forces in northern Mexico. He continued a low scale guerrilla campaign until 1920, when he made peace, and recognized the Mexican government in exchange for an amnesty and a 25,000 acre hacienda. In 1923, Villa announced plans to run for president, but soon thereafter, his car was ambushed and shot up, and he was fatally wounded. He realized that a life as interesting as his should end with interesting last words. However, he was unable to think of anything memorable. So his last words as he lay dying were: “Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something“.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
Che Guevara. Rolex Magazine

Che Guevara’s Final Words Were Definitely Iconic

Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an Argentinean Marxist known for his pivotal role in the Cuban Revolution, emerged as a symbol of anti-imperialism and leftist ideology worldwide. Born in 1928, Guevara’s early experiences, including travels through South America, exposed him to rampant poverty and injustice, fostering his commitment to Marxism and revolutionary change. He abandoned his medical studies, joining the revolutionary fervor in Guatemala after witnessing the CIA-backed overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz’s government in 1954, which fueled his anti-imperialist fervor and global socialist aspirations. In Mexico, he forged a close alliance with Fidel Castro, leading to his integral involvement in the Cuban Revolution of 1959, where he became Castro’s trusted advisor and a key figure in Cuba’s transition to communism.

Following the revolution’s success, Guevara played diverse roles in the Cuban government, from security to diplomacy, leaving a significant mark on international affairs. Despite his diplomatic efforts, Guevara’s passion for revolutionary warfare led him to seek out conflicts in the Congo and Bolivia, where he aimed to ignite revolutions. However, his Bolivian expedition ended tragically in 1967 when he was captured and subsequently executed by the Bolivian army. Guevara’s indomitable spirit shone through in his final moments, defiantly confronting his captor with the words, “I know you have come to kill me. Shoot, coward! You are only going to kill a man!” Guevara’s enduring legacy embodies the unwavering pursuit of social justice and the revolutionary struggle against oppression.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
A young Winston Churchill. International Churchill Society

Churchill’s Final Moments (Part 1)

Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) is considered by many to be the greatest Briton to have ever lived. Few led a life as varied and eventful, and as replete with accomplishments and failures, as he did. He is best known for his leadership during WWII, particularly during the stretch when Britain stood alone and defiant against the Nazi juggernaut. But even before that supreme moment, Churchill had led a full life that would have exhausted most. His father was a British lord and prominent Conservative Party politician, and his mother was a wealthy American heiress. Neither had time to see him as often as Churchill would have liked. Sent to a boarding school, he did poorly, and showed little of the brilliance that would mark his later life. So his father, sent him to the army, whose officer ranks back then were a dumping ground for the dimmer scions of Britain’s aristocracy.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
Winston Churchill during the Boer War. Everand

It took Churchill three tries to pass the entrance exams into Sandhurst (Britain’s West Point) in 1893, and enroll as an officer cadet. Once in, however, he took to military life and began to blossom. Commissioned a cavalry officer in 1895, he took a side job as a war reporter, and filed his first stories from Cuba. The following year he accompanied his regiment to India, and in 1898 participated in the Nile campaign that conquered the Sudan, and the twin capacities of a soldier and reporter. During the climactic battle of that campaign, Churchill took part in the last cavalry charge in British Army history. A year later, he was in South Africa, as a war correspondent to cover the Boer War. Captured and imprisoned by the Boers, he made a dramatic escape, eluded a massive manhunt, and made it back to British lines.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty, 1914. The Guardian

Churchill’s Final Moments (Part 2)

Only twenty five when he returned to Britain, Churchill was already a celebrity, known for both his reporting and his personal exploits. Determined to follow in his father’s footsteps, he parlayed that celebrity into a political career. He won election to Parliament in 1900 as a Conservative MP. However, conflicts with his party’s platform led him to switch and join the Liberals in 1903. He rose in Liberal ranks, and by 1908 was in the government as a cabinet minister – the youngest in half a century. Alongside Lloyd George, Churchill laid the foundations for Britain’s welfare state.

In 1911, Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty, and oversaw the Royal Navy’s rapid expansion in an arms race with Germany. However, when WWI broke out Churchill was criticized for a series of naval failures early in the war. They culminated in the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign of 1915. It had been Churchill’s brainchild, and its humiliating collapse forced him to resign in disgrace. It sent him into the first of many recurrent bouts of depression. Gallipoli remained a stain on Churchill until it was washed out and redeemed by his WWII leadership.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
Winston Churchill. Flickr

Churchill’s Final Moments – Ready To Depart? (Part 3)

After WWI, Churchill regained office, and in 1924 switched back to the Conservatives. He joined their government as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and quipped: “anyone can rat. It takes genius, however, to re-rat“. His stint as Chancellor proved disastrous. Churchill restored the gold standard, which resulted in an overvalued British pound and a consequent collapse in British exports. That led to massive layoffs, labor turmoil, and a general strike that paralyzed Britain. The Conservatives were defeated in 1929, Labor took over government, and Churchill was out of a job. Between the disasters of Gallipoli and his Chancellorship, Churchill entered the 1930s with a poor political reputation. When Conservatives regained office, he was not invited to join the Cabinet. He spent the decade in a political isolation that he described as his “wilderness years”.

Churchill devoted his time to writing, and to issuing warnings about the gathering Nazi menace that were ignored. He was vindicated when war broke out in 1939. Appointed Prime Minister in 1940, in his country’s darkest hour, he cemented his place in history as Britain’s greatest wartime leader. Booted out of office by British voters within weeks of final victory in Europe, he returned to writing, and won a Nobel Prize in Literature for his WWII memoirs. He returned for another stint as Prime Minister in 1951, before he finally retired in 1955. After such an eventful life, it was perhaps understandable that his final words before dying in 1965 were “I’m bored with it all“.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
A young Karl Marx, before 1840. Pinterest

Karl Marx Didn’t Believe In Last Words

Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) was the German philosopher and radical socialist whose Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital formed the basis of Marxism, and revolutionized the world for better and for worse. Born in Prussia, he experimented with sociopolitical theories in university, and by the 1840s had become a radical journalist. His writings were viewed as dangerous by the authorities. In the span of a few years he was expelled from Germany, France, Belgium, then Germany again, before he found refuge in London. There, he settled and lived for the remainder of his life.

Marx received a doctorate in 1841, but his politics kept him from getting a teaching job, so he took to journalism. He founded a correspondence committee to link European socialists. That inspired English socialists to form the Communist League, and ask Marx and Engels to write a platform for their party. The result was the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848. Shortly thereafter, Marx was expelled from Belgium. He went back to France, which also expelled him. He returned to Prussia, but by then he had been stripped of his citizenship, and the authorities refused to re-naturalize him. So he ended up in London in 1849. On his deathbed in 1883, as he lay expiring from pleurisy (or acute bronchitis), he was solicited for last words. He replied with his last breath: “Go on! Get Out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
Octavius. Wikimedia

The Roman Empire’s Founder (Part 1)

Gaius Octavius, known to history as Augustus (63 BC – 14 AD), was Rome’s first emperor. He was born to an affluent plebian family on his father’s side, while his mother was of the patrician Julii lineage, and a niece of Julius Caesar. Octavius’ famous grand uncle launched his grand-nephew into public life, and groomed him to be his heir. Octavius was in Albania, completing his military and academic studies, when his grand uncle was assassinated in 44 BC. He returned to Italy, where he learned that Caesar had adopted him as his son in his will, and made him his chief heir. Octavius was advised to decline the dangerous inheritance, but he ignored the advice and went to Rome. There, Caesar’s chief lieutenant, Mark Antony, refused to honor the will.

Caesar’s assassins ignored the teenager. Cicero, one of Rome’s leading elder statesmen and a key figure of a politically powerful but militarily weak faction, sought to manipulate him. He quipped that he would: “raise, praise, then erase” the young man. All underestimated Octavius. He paid for public games in honor of his adoptive father to gain recognition and popularity, and wooed Caesar’s veteran soldiers to his side. With a military force now at Octavius’s command, Cicero’s faction sought his aid. They bent the rules to appoint him a senator despite his youth, and sent him against Mark Antony, who was forced to retreat from Italy to Gaul. The consuls in official command of the forces arrayed against Mark Antony were killed, so Octavius compelled the Senate to appoint him to a vacant consulship even though he was legally too young for the office.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
Augustus. Wikimedia

Last Words After a Grand Performance on Life’s Stage (Part 2)

Octavius then double crossed the Senate, reached an agreement with Mark Antony, and joined him in a power sharing dictatorship. The duo launched a massive purge that executed thousands of suspected opponents, including Cicero. They went after Julius Caesar’s assassins, defeated them, and exacted revenge. Octavius and Antony then swore friendship, and sealed the bargain with Antony’s marriage to Octavius’ sister. They divided the Roman empire, with Antony ruling the east, while Octavius stayed in Rome and ruled the west. The duo fell out when Antony fell in love with Cleopatra in Egypt, married her, and abandoned Octavius’ sister. Octavius used that as a pretext to attack Antony, whom he defeated decisively in 31 BC. He then seized Egypt and the eastern provinces, and finally brought the entire Roman empire under his control. He then set about reorganizing the state.

Octavius ended the Roman Republic, whose political structure, created for a city state, had proved impractical for the governance of a vast empire. That led to a century of chaos and bloodshed, until the reins were taken by Octavius, whom the Senate granted the honorific “Augustus” by which he is known to history. In the Republic’s place, Augustus established a stable, autocratic, and centralized de-facto monarchy. That inaugurated a period known as the Pax Romana that brought about two centuries of peace, stability, and prosperity. He held supreme power in the Roman world from 43 BC, first in conjunction with Mark Antony until 31 BC, and thereafter alone, until his death in 14 AD. Comparing the role he had to play as emperor to the theater, Augustus’ last words to those gathered around his deathbed were: “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit“.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
General John Sedgwick. Cornwall Historical Society

Unfortunate Last Words by A Civil War General

John Sedgwick, born into a lineage adorned with Revolutionary War heroes, emerged as a cherished figure among his troops during the Civil War, earning the affectionate moniker “Uncle John” for his compassion and genuine concern for his soldiers’ welfare. Despite his notable military prowess as a Union general and corps commander, Sedgwick is often overshadowed by the irony of his final words. Graduating from West Point in 1837, he embarked on a distinguished career as an artillery officer before assuming command roles as the nation plunged into Civil War in 1861. Leading his own division by February 1862, Sedgwick’s valor was evident in battles such as the Peninsula Campaign, where he sustained multiple wounds during the tumultuous Seven Days Battles.

However, it was at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse in 1864 that General Sedgwick met his untimely demise. Amidst the chaos of positioning his artillery and rallying his troops, Sedgwick’s attempt to embolden his men against sniper fire tragically backfired. Chiding their apprehension, he quipped, “Why are you dodging like this? They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dista…” before a sniper’s bullet abruptly cut short his words and his life, piercing beneath his left eye and claiming him instantly. His death marked a poignant moment in Civil War history, immortalizing him as the highest-ranking Union officer to fall on the battlefield, his legacy woven with both valor and the fateful irony of his final moments.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
Vespasian. Short History

An Unexpected Emperor Became A God

Vespasian, the unlikely emperor of Rome, defied his humble beginnings in an Italian village to establish the illustrious Flavian Dynasty. From a lineage of modest occupations, including a legionary turned centurion and a moneylender catering to barbarians, Vespasian ascended through the ranks of Roman officialdom, commencing with a military tribuneship in the cursus honorum. His pivotal role in the invasion of Britain under Emperor Claudius propelled him into prominence, earning him both accolades and consulship. However, clashes with the emperor’s wife led to his premature retirement, only for Vespasian to reemerge during Nero’s reign, albeit facing setbacks due to an ill-timed slumber during a lyre recital. Reduced to muleteering, Vespasian’s fortunes reversed with his appointment to quell the Jewish Rebellion in 67 AD, coinciding with Nero’s fall from power.

Amidst the tumultuous “Year of the Three Emperors” in 69 AD, Vespasian seized opportunity in the chaos, rallying support in the Roman east and declaring himself emperor. His pragmatic rule restored stability and prosperity, marked by a candid and unpretentious demeanor that endeared him to many. Renowned for his wit and forthright speech, Vespasian implemented unconventional revenue measures, including a tax on public urinals, immortalizing his jest that “money does not smell” as a Latin proverb. As his life ebbed away in 79 AD, Vespasian’s parting quip, “dear me, I think I am becoming a god,” epitomized his lifelong tendency to embrace levity and humility, underscoring his remarkable journey from obscurity to imperial divinity.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
Hugh Latimer. Art UK

A Martyr’s Powerful Last Words (Part 1)

Hugh Latimer (circa 1487 – 1555) was an English Protestant bishop burned at the stake by Queen Mary during her campaign to restore England to Roman Catholicism. Her father, King Henry VIII, had taken England out of the Catholic Church when the Pope refused to grant him a divorce from Mary’s mother. He established the Church of England, and appointed himself its head. However, he kept many doctrines and practices of Catholicism. Hugh Latimer had graduated from Cambridge University, was elected a fellow of its Clare College in 1510, and became a Catholic priest in 1515.

In 1524, Latimer switched to Protestantism, and became a zealous advocate and defender of his new faith. He gained renown as a Protestant preacher, and was appointed a bishop by Henry VIII in his newly formed Church of England. However, Latimer resigned in protest when the king refused to adopt Protestant reforms. Henry was succeeded by his underage son, Edward VI, who was more staunchly Protestant. During the son’s reign, England became decidedly more Protestant. Latimer regained royal favor, was appointed court preacher, and became the young king’s chaplain.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
Hugh Latimer comforts Bishop Ridley at the stake. Meister Drucke

A Martyr’s Powerful Last Words (Part 2)

Unfortunately for Hugh Latimer and England’s Protestants, King Edward VI died young and without issue. He was succeeded by his sister Mary, a staunch Catholic. She viewed Protestantism as a heresy, and was determined to restore England to Catholicism. Mary ordered that prominent Protestants be imprisoned and tried for heresy. Latimer, along with fellow bishop Nicholas Ridley and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, was tried for heresy in Oxford in 1555. Latimer refused to renounce his faith, was convicted of heresy, and sentenced to be burned at the stake.

Latimer was chained to the stake alongside Ridley. When the flames were lit, Ridley cried out in anguish. Latimer sought to comfort him even as he himself was being consumed by fire. He told his colleague: “be of good cheer, master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle in England, as I hope, by God’s grace, shall never be put out.” It could be argued that the candle still burns. Queen Mary’s efforts to restore Catholicism failed. When she died in 1558, she was succeeded by her Protestant sister, Elizabeth I, and England has been Protestant ever since.

These Historic Figures Uttered These Shocking Words With Their Final Breath
Agrippina crowning Nero. Wikimedia

A Wannabe Artist’s Last Words

Nero, the infamous final emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, descended into history as one of Rome’s most despised rulers. Born into a lineage fraught with intrigue, Nero’s ascent to power was marred by familial betrayal and manipulation. Following the poisoning of Emperor Claudius by his own mother, Agrippina, Nero ascended to the throne at a tender age under her shadowy influence. However, their relationship soured, leading Nero to orchestrate Agrippina’s demise through a series of failed attempts, culminating in her brutal murder by the hands of sailors.

Freed from his mother’s control, Nero indulged in his extravagant whims, fancying himself a virtuoso musician and aspiring Olympian. His performances, characterized by interminable concerts and grandiose Olympic aspirations, elicited both ridicule and fear among his subjects. Nero’s reckless extravagance and neglect of governance plunged the empire into turmoil, sapping its resources and alienating its populace. As discontent simmered and rebellion brewed across the Roman Empire, Nero’s downfall became inevitable. Faced with the Senate’s declaration of his public enemy status and impending arrest, Nero grappled with his fleeting options before ultimately choosing self-inflicted demise. His final lament, “Oh, what an artist dies in me!” encapsulated the delusions of grandeur and tragic demise of a ruler whose reign epitomized excess and tyranny.

 

Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Addison, Paul – Churchill: The Unexpected Hero (2005)

American Battlefield Trust – The Death of John Sedgwick

Anderson, John Lee – Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life (1997)

Arnold, Oren – The Mexican Centaur: An Intimate Biography of Pancho Villa (1979)

Berlin, Isaiah – Karl Marx: His Life and Environment (1963)

Cassius Dio – Roman History, Books 64 – 66

Catton, Bruce – The Civil War, Three Volumes in One (1984)

Derrida, Jacques – Without Alibi (2002)

Eck, Werner – The Age of Augustus (2002)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Hugh Latimer

Encyclopedia Britannica – Pancho Villa

First Things, a Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, No. 284, 2018, p. 33+ – Latimer and Ridley are Forgotten: Peter Hitchens Recovers a Protestant Understanding of England’s Martyrs

Gilbert, Martin – Churchill: A Life (1991)

Goldsworthy, Adrian – Augustus: First Emperor of Rome (2014)

Hart, Joseph – Che: The Life, Death, and Afterlife of a Revolutionary (2003)

History Collection – Geriatric Glory: Historic Figures Who Did Amazing Things in Their Old Age

Jenkins, Roy – Churchill (2001)

Libcom – Stjepan Filipovic: Everlasting Symbol of Anti Fascism

Levick, Barbara – Vespasian (2016)

Malitz, Jurgen – Nero (2005)

New York Times, May 3rd, 2007 – When That Guy Died on My Show

Nonument – Stjepan Filipovic Monument

Party Like 1660 – The Black Nun of Moret

Sperber, Jonathan – Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life (2013)

Suetonius – The Lives of the Twelve Caesars: Augustus, Nero, Vespasian

Wise Geek – How Successful Was Emperor Nero at the Olympic Games?

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