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Which famous singer went out with the foreboding phrase "I'm losing"? And who followed up a rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot with a beautiful promise to her family? On today's episode of the List Show, we're covering some of our favorite "last words" of famous people from history, from John Adams to James Brown.

1. On the fourth of July 1831, the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe, passed away. We’ll talk about the wild coincidence of not one but THREE U. S. presidents dying on Independence Day a bit later, but right now, I’m more interested in what Monroe said just before he shuffled off this mortal coil.

As he lay dying, he reportedly uttered the words “I regret that I should leave this world without again beholding him.” Who is this mysterious “him” our former president was referring to? Why, it’s James Madison. That’s right, his predecessor, America’s fourth president, and Monroe’s long time friend. The pair were close buds as well as coworkers for many years. They did have a falling out in the early 1800s that lasted several years, but they eventually patched things up and remained close until the end of their lives. “I regret that I should leave this world again without beholding him.” Beautiful. Poetic. Friendship. I love it. Does not come close to making up for the fact that Monroe owned many enslaved people, but I digress.

Hi, I’m Justin Dodd filling in for Erin this week, and this is The List Show. Today we’re going to be recounting some of our favorite famous “last words.” From some more presidents to Harriett Tubman to convicted killers, we’ve got a whole bunch of morbid but often beautiful dying words. Let’s get into it.


A brief caveat before we dive in: a person’s last words are kind of a complicated subject. Many famous last words have been mythologized so intensely that we take them as fact even though there’s no hard evidence from people in the room when it happened. Like, Caesar’s last words being “Et tu, Brute?” Probably not true, as we discussed in our episode about Roman Empire misconceptions.

Also, “last words” could mean something they said, say, four days before they actually passed. It’s not always spewing some beautiful poetry as a last gasp before kicking the can. So take these with a grain of salt, okay? People record what they want, and history is changed forever. That’s life, baby. Or, death, rather. Now back to the quotes!

2. Musician James Brown, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, died on Christmas day 2006. He became ill very suddenly a few days prior, and showed up to the hospital, still hoping to be able to perform at his upcoming New Year’s Eve shows. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it to those performances, and he predicted it. His last words, as reported by his friend and manager Charles Bobbit, were “I’m going away tonight.” Three breaths later, he was gone. 

3. Someone who had something else on his mind was professional baseball player and coach Moe Berg. He passed on May 29, 1972, after a long career in the sport. His final words? “How did the Mets do today?” For the record, they had won. 


Real quick, I don’t think you can talk about Moe Berg without also mentioning that, after his MLB career, he served as a spy for the U. S. government. Huh.

4. Let’s get another president in here. America’s 11th commander in chief, James K. Polk, died on June 15th, 1849, only a few months after he left office. His last words were for no one but his dear wife and former first lady. “I love you Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.”

5. Another American superstar, who you might recognize if you’re rich and only carry cash, is Benjamin Franklin. He died on April 17th, 1790, NOT from a lightning strike, from an assortment of health problems, including pleuritis. On his deathbed, he was advised to change position so he could breathe more easily. In response, he uttered the words “A dying man can do nothing easy.” Shortly after, he passed. 

6. Now, for one of my favorite “last words” stories. While he’s not the most famous person on this list, Richard B Mellon went out with a touching ending—literally. Mellon was a very successful businessman and philanthropist active around the turn of the 20th century. He worked very closely with his brother Andrew Mellon, who was also a successful businessman. When they weren’t working hard on doing… business stuff together, they had a seven decade long game of tag going. Incredible.

On December 1st, 1933, on his deathbed, he called his brother Andrew over and whispered his final words, “Last tag.” His brother remained “it” for four years, until he too died. Ah man. That one’s incredible. 

7. Harriet Tubman, one of the most important people in American history, died on March 10th, 1913. Some claim that in her final hours, she gathered her family around to sing, and her last words were “swing low, sweet chariot.” But, more accurate accounts point to there being an exchange of words after this beautiful musical moment. Her actual last words were, “Give my love to the churches. Tell the women to stand firm. I go to prepare a place for you.” What a badass.

8. In another touching tale from American history, we have former U. S. Secretary of State William Henry Seward. Seward passed fairly suddenly on October 10th, 1872. His family gathered around him as he lay in bed, and asked him if he had any final words. He replied, “Nothing, only ‘love one another.’” Hey, if you’re gonna pick three words to go out on, not a bad choice.

9. Let’s take a very different turn, shall we? Thomas J Grasso was a convicted murderer who was sentenced to death by the state of Oklahoma in 1995. I’m not going to go into any gritty details because I don’t think romanticizing killers is all that cool, but his last words are pretty memorable. Grasso’s final meal consisted of an array of items, from two dozen steamed clams, to a double cheeseburger from Burger King, to a can of Spaghetti-Os with meatballs.

Just before he was killed, he issued his final statement. “I did not get my Spaghetti-Os, I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.” And know this they did.

10. Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was known for his work in existentialism and even winning the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature, which he then declined. He died in Paris, France on April 15th, 1980. As he lay next to his longtime partner, Simone de Beauvoir, who herself was a prominent philosopher and feminist. His last words, “I love you very much, my dear Beaver.” This, of course, was a cute nickname, based partly on her surname, and partly on her busy work ethic. Very sweet.

11. Slightly less sweet: Composer Jean-Philippe Rameau’s last words were used to critique a priest. He died on September 12, 1764, while a priest sang to him in bed. Rameau’s response? “What the devil do you mean to sing to me, priest? You are out of tune.” But, you know, in French. So, even more scathing.

12. Frank Sinatra kept his final statement brief and simple. Ol’ Blue Eyes passed on May 14, 1998 in LA. His last words: “I’m losing.”

13. And as mentioned earlier, James Monroe was not the only president to die on the fourth of July. So did two other very famous presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The two were friends for many years, and then adversaries, and then seemingly kind of friends again.

In 1826, both former presidents were not doing so hot as Independence Day rolled around. As legend has it, John Adams, moments before he succumbed to typhoid, uttered the potentially bitter words, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Little did he know, he was wrong! Jefferson had died a few hours earlier. Jefferson’s final words? “Suck it, Adams.” Okay no that’s not true, there’s actually a few different accounts of Jefferson’s final words, mostly apocryphal tales about the Fourth of July, but nothing is really confirmed. Sorry.

14. And just to cap things off in style, let’s end with some amazing, inspiring words from another president, commanding general of the Union army, Ulysses S. Grant. As someone who had a big part in winning the Civil War for the North, you’d expect Grant to have some important stuff to say before he bit the dust. On July 23rd, 1885, he uttered his last words—uh, word. He said, “Water.” Wow. Amazing stuff.

Thanks for watching this episode of The List Show. I feel like we really got the full gamut of last words, from thoughtful and poetic to… water. Really makes you think about planning your own final statement, just so you can really nail it, you know?

Let us know what your final words would be if, you know, you’re okay with thinking about your own demise. Personally, I’ve known mine for years, and it too is “I regret that I should leave this world without again beholding him.” But for me, the him is Keanu Reeves. Obviously.

I’ll see you next time.