Famous Last Words or Can Your Epitaph Change the World?


Once upon a time at the Frederic library, a group of people who met regularly over coffee were discussing the reported last words of Voltaire.  The  discussion soon wandered into the last words of other famous people.  Several of us could think of comments made by some well-known people on their death beds.  Many of these comments are very interesting; perhaps because you don’t think anyone is going to lie when they only have a few minutes to live.  Or perhaps, we are fascinated because of some irony that these last words provide.

Voltaire is alleged to have refused to repent his sins because “He did not want to make any more enemies before he died.”  He was referring to the fact that Satan would be upset if he now recanted on his lack of belief in religion or Christianity.  Socrates last words were:  “Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.”  (Asclepius was the Greek god for curing illness, and it is likely Socrates’ last words meant that death is the cure—and freedom, of the soul from the body.) (Wikipedia reference)

Regardless of the reason for our fascination with these “last words”, there is no doubt that many of us find considerable inspiration in the last words of others.  I am going to share some that I like in my blog today.  If any of these motivate you, please feel free to send me your comments on why they inspire or excite you, or simply send me some famous last words that you like.  I may post again on this subject if you can send me enough inspiration.

  • Adams, John (1735-1826) “Thomas Jefferson–still survives…” (4 July 1826. Jefferson died on the same day.)
  • Barrymore, John (1882-1942) Die?  I should say not, dear fellow.  No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.
  • Eastman, George (1854-1932) “My work is done, why wait?” (His suicide note.)
  • Marx, Karl (1818-1883) “Go on, get out.  Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”
  • Picasso, Pablo (1881-1973) “Drink to me.”
  • Runyon, Damon (1884-1946) “You can keep the things of bronze and stone and give me one man to remember me just once a year.”
  • Stein, Gertrude (1874-1946) “Just before she died she asked, `What is the answer?” No answer came.  She laughed and said, “In that case what is the question?” Then she died.”

The above list of my favorites was taken from a much more extensive list that can be found at https://www.djsmapping.com/words.shtml,   “Real Last Words from Famous People.”

As you ponder my list, will it provoke you to think the obvious or maybe not so obvious?  Is it too early to wonder or maybe even plan what you will say for your last words?  My friend Harold’s last words were, “No regrets.”  Harold was the most positive person I have ever met in my life.  Right up to the end (he died of pancreatic cancer), he truly had no regrets in his life.  I always found that unbelievable as my regrets would fill a book.

I wonder what my last words will be.  I am not anxious to find out.  At 76, I am still enjoying good health, a great spouse, and more peaceful days then when I was younger.  My last words will have to await my last breaths.  Truly, none of us will know what our last words will be until our final hours regardless of how we approach death or how we want to die.


Nevertheless, while we may not have a choice over our last words, we can decide what we want written on our tombstone.  This is something we do have a choice over.  Do you want to leave only your name and date of death on your tomb or do you want to leave some inspiration for future cemetery wanderers?  (I am aware of those individuals who choose to be cremated, which while very cost effective and environmentally ethical is almost a boring way to leave this planet.)  One of my favorite things to do on vacations is to wander in old cemeteries in countries or places that I am visiting.  They are free to visit, and they provide an almost endless source of inspiration, wonder and even amusement.  For instance, in Boot Hill cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona, one of the tombstones reads as follows:

“Here lies Lester Moore.  Four slugs from a 44, no Les, no more.”


What would you like written on your tombstone?  What do you want the world to remember you for or think of you as they pass by your resting place.  This can be a fun and thought-provoking activity.  Here are some thoughts I have for my epitaph.

  • I searched for the truth but never found it.
  • Why?  Why?  Why?
  • The more I learned, the less I knew, until I knew everything about nothing

Feel free to send me your epitaph or post it in the comments section.  I will look forward to being inspired. 

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Wayne Woodman
    Jun 27, 2022 @ 17:43:37

    Ah John another inspiring and thought provoking article, thank you. I have donated my body, or what’s left of it, to a local medical school with the remains to be disposed of by them so no cemetery plot and thus no headstone. However, what would I have written there if I was having a headstone—- Thanks for the journey, it was interesting! Don’t grieve for me I am wandering the galaxies! Celebrate life and your journey every day, it is absolutely amazing to wake up each morning!



    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Jun 27, 2022 @ 17:54:11

      Wayne, I love your thoughts for a potential epitaph. Too bad we cannot dispense with all the burial crap and just have an epitaph someplace to let people remember us who never heard of us.



  2. Wayne Woodman
    Jun 27, 2022 @ 17:44:07

    Reblogged this on Musings and Wonderings and commented:
    Your thoughts?



  3. Endless Weekend
    Jun 28, 2022 @ 15:31:51

    When people surrounded O Henry’s death bed, wondering if he was dead or alive, someone suggested that they touch his feet, saying something like “no one dies with warm feet.” O Henry opened his eyes, and said “Joan of Arc did” before passing away 🙂 When I first heard this story, it came with a couple of disclaimers about it being a potential urban legend, but as far as last words go, it stuck with me 😀



  4. jennygirl1278
    Jul 05, 2022 @ 09:28:37

    Hmmm, very interesting. It is true that while we may not have control over what our last words might be, I am pondering over some epitaphs I would like scripted on my tombstone. We chose, “A Precious Mother to Many”, for my late mother who fostered more than 50 children later in her life. My late sister chose her saying, “In You I Live On”, which I never particularly cared for as it was too dramatic for my taste. What does that mean anyway? As for my own, I would like to steal a quote from Dale Carnegie, albeit a bit lengthy, but what the heck.
    “I shall pass this way but once; any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again”. I’ll bet that will cost my family a pretty penny! 😃



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