The great director and actor Orson Welles died on this day in 1985. In Citizen Kane, he uttered the most famous fictional dying words (or word) ever: “Rosebud.” Has the question ever occurred to anyone: How did they know John Foster Kane’s last word, since there was no one around when he died?
“Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough,” said Karl Marx right before he died (March 14, 1883), in a nice bit of irony. But the urge to get in a last word, with some people, is apparently as strong as the one to get in the last word for most people. The impulse may be summed up with this variation on an old bit of advice: Always make a good last impression.
My own favorite last words were those (maybe apocryphal) of Gertrude Stein. She asked her pal Alice B. Toklas, “What is the answer?” When Toklas did not respond, she said, “Well, then, what is the question?”
Here are ten other classics.
“Let us cross over the river and sit in the shade of the trees.” – General Stonewall Jackson.
“They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” – Another Civil War general, John Sedwick, shot and killed at the Battle of the Wilderness.
“I did not get my Spaghetti-O’s. I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.” -- Condemned murderer Thomas Grasso, concerning his last meal.
“Go away. I’m all right.” – George Orwell.
“Turn out the lights. I don’t want to go home in the dark.” – O’Henry.
“Kill me, or else you are a murderer!” – Franz Kafka, to his doctor.
“I am going to—or I am about to—die. Either expression is correct.” – French grammarian Dominique Bouhours.
“Am I dying, or is this my birthday?” – Lady Nancy Astor, reviving momentarily and seeing her family gathered around her.
“Why should I talk to you? I’ve just been talking to your boss.” – Actor Wilson Mizner, opening his eyes and seeing a priest.
“Either those drapes go or I do.” – Oscar Wilde.