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The Surprising Last Words of 11 Entertainers

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What do actors, musicians, and writers say when they die? I consulted the reference Last Words of Notable People by Bill Brahms to collect eleven examples. Read on, and get a hanky ready.

1. Bob Hope (1903-2003)

The words: "Surprise me."

The story: "Bob" Hope's full name was Leslie Townes Hope. As an actor and radio personality, he became best known in his later years for entertaining American troops stationed overseas. He died at Toluca Lake, California at the ripe old age of 100. His wife Dolores asked Bob where he wanted to be buried, prompting his last words.

Reports of Hope's death were greatly exaggerated in 1998, when the Associated Press accidentally released a prepared obituary. The incorrect news spread so rapidly that it was announced on the floor of the US House. Representative Bob Stump, R-Arizona, Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, broke the "news."

2. Glenn Miller (1904-1944)

The words: "Where the hell are the parachutes?"

Glenn MillerThe story: Glenn Miller was a big band leader and US Army Major during WWII. Miller boarded a plane bound from England to Paris, where he planned to perform concerts for troops on leave in Europe. His last recorded words as he boarded the plane (above) were spoken to Colonel Norman Baesell, who replied: "What's the matter Miller, don't you want to live forever?" The plane was lost over the English Channel.

3. Eugene O'Neill, Senior (1888-1953)

The words: "I knew it! I knew it! Born in a hotel room and, goddamn it, dying in a hotel room."

Eugene O'NeillThe story: O'Neill was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, best known for Long Day's Journey into Night and The Iceman Cometh. He was born in a room at the Broadway hotel on what is now Times Square. He died at age 65 in a Boston hotel after suffering neurological disease. The hotel was later turned into the Shelton Hall dorm at Boston University.

O'Neill had an alcoholic son, Eugene O'Neill Jr., who committed suicide in 1950 at the age of 40. The Junior O'Neill wrote in his note, "Never let it be said of O'Neill that he failed to empty a bottle. Ave atque vale." (The last phrase is Latin for "Hail and farewell.")

4. "Alfalfa" (Carl Switzer) (1927-1959)

The words: "I want that fifty bucks you owe me and I want it now!"

Alfalfa
The Story: Carl Dean "Alfala" Switzer was an actor, best known for his childhood work in Our Gang, though he also appeared as an adult in films including It's a Wonderful Life and Island in the Sky. Switzer's death is a bizarrely complex story that is well-summarized on Wikipedia. Long story short, there was a dispute over a $50 reward for a lost hunting dog, and Switzer was shot and killed by Moses "Bud" Stiltz during a fight over the money. Switzer was just 31.

5. Groucho Marx (1890-1977)

The words: "This is no way to live!"

Groucho Marx
The story: Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx was widely known for comedy films with his brothers Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo. He also hosted You Bet Your Life. In 1977, he was hospitalized for pneumonia in Los Angeles, and quipped his last.

Groucho's brother Leonard (better known as "Chico") died in 1961. Chico's last words were instructions to his wife: "Remember, Honey, don't forget what I told you. Put in my coffin a deck of cards, a mashie niblick, and a pretty blonde."

6. Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980)

The words: "One never knows the ending. One has to die to know exactly what happens after death, although Catholics have their hopes."

Alfred Hitchcock
The story: Hitchcock was the Master of Suspense, directing film masterpieces including Vertigo, North By Northwest and Psycho, among others too numerous to mention. He died in April of 1980 in Los Angeles; his funeral was held at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church.

7. "Moe" Howard (Three Stooges) (1897-1975)

The words: "I've been really sick lately, so I'm sorry that I haven't answered yours and Ernie's letters, but I think about you daily."

MoeThe story: Harry Moses Horwitz is better known to us as Moe, the Stooge and vaudevillian. He died of lung cancer at age 77 while writing his autobiography (and apparently not enough letters); his wife died months later and they were buried together.

Moe had seen his brother Curly die tragically in 1952. Eddie Deezen's fantastic article The Final Years of Curly (of Three Stooges Fame) tells the story of Curly's life, including this passage:

By the end, Curly could only communicate with Moe by squeezing his hand, sometimes just by blinking his eyes. The hospital supervisor told Moe that Curly’s physical and mental deterioration was causing the hospital inconvenience and suggested that Moe move him to a mental institution. Moe adamantly refused.

Eddie also wrote about Shemp: The Forgotten Stooge.

8. Rod Serling (1924-1975)

The words (spoken): "That's what I anticipate death will be: a totally unconscious void in which you float through eternity with no particular consciousness about anything."

The words (written): "You can't kill this tough Jew." (Written from his deathbed to Twilight Zone colleague Owen Comora.)

Rod Serling
The story: Rodman Edward Serling is best known for his groundbreaking television show, The Twilight Zone -- he wrote 92 of the 156 episodes, contributed to other shows, and co-wrote the screenplay for Planet of the Apes, among many others. He was known for political activism, which he injected (often thinly-veiled) into his teleplays. He died aged just 50, after suffering several heart attacks and undergoing open-heart surgery in Rochester, New York.

9. Sid Vicious (1957-1979)

The words: "We had a death pact. I have to keep my half of the bargain. Please bury me next to my baby. Bury me in my leather jacket, jeans and motor cycle boots. Goodbye."

Sid Vicious (graffiti)
The story: Simon John Ritchie used the stage name Sid Vicious, the notorious bassist for The Sex Pistols. In 1978 he allegedly killed his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. Vicious/Ritchie killed himself with a heroin overdose the next year, aged just 21. His last words were left in a suicide note found in his jacket pocket. He was cremated, and reports differ about the fate of his ashes. The story is told in the film Sid and Nancy, and it's exactly as devastating as you'd expect.

10. John Wayne (1907-1979)

The words: "Of course I know who you are. You're my girl. I love you."

John Wayne
The Story: John Wayne (born Marion Robert Morrison) won an Oscar for True Grit in 1970, and starred in more than 150 films. He died of stomach cancer, after surviving lung cancer years earlier. His grave is marked with a quotation from his 1971 Playboy interview: "Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday."

11. Jackie Wilson (1934-1984)

The words: "My heart is crying, crying."

Jackie WilsonThe Story: Jackie Wilson was known as "Mr. Excitement," an R&B singer with soul and verve beyond his years. He collapsed onstage in 1975 while singing his hit song "Lonely Teardrops" as part of Dick Clark's Good Ol' Rock and Roll Revue. Having suffered a stroke, Wilson went in and out of a coma until 1984, when he died at the age of 49. Even when he briefly emerged from the coma, he was unable to speak, leaving his last words a snippet of song. His estate went bankrupt, and Wilson was buried in an unmarked grave. Michael Jackson dedicated his Thriller Album of the Year Grammy to Wilson the year Wilson died. In 1987, a fundraiser collected enough money to place a gravestone on his burial site in Detroit.

More Last Words

This post collects last words from the excellent volume Last Words of Notable People: Final Words of More Than 3500 Noteworthy People Throughout History (now also on Kindle) by Bill Brahms. You can get it from Brahms's website. It is notable not just as an amazing reference (this is a big book!), but as a reference book promoted by former mental_floss writer John Green. Green is a collector of last words, and Brahms's volume collects a series of (disputed) last words of François Rabelais, which are quoted in Green's novel Looking for Alaska.

Follow Chris Higgins on Twitter for more stories like this one.

(Note: all images via Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons license or out of copyright.)

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entertainment
10 Surprising Facts About The Babadook
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In 2014, The Babadook came out of nowhere and scared audiences across the globe. Written and directed by Aussie Jennifer Kent, and based on her short film Monster, The Babadook is about a widow named Amelia (played by Kent’s drama schoolmate Essie Davis) who has trouble controlling her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who thinks there’s a monster living in their house. Amelia reads Samuel a pop-up book, Mister Babadook, and Samuel manifests the creature into a real-life monster. The Babadook may be the villain, but the film explores the pitfalls of parenting and grief in an emotional way. 

“I never approached this as a straight horror film,” Kent told Complex. “I always was drawn to the idea of grief, and the suppression of that grief, and the question of, how would that affect a person? ... But at the core of it, it’s about the mother and child, and their relationship.”

Shot on a $2 million budget, the film grossed more than $10.3 million worldwide and gained an even wider audience via streaming networks. Instead of creating Babadook out of CGI, a team generated the images in-camera, inspired by the silent films of Georges Méliès and Lon Chaney. Here are 10 things you might not have known about The Babadook (dook, dook).

1. THE NAME “BABADOOK” WAS EASY FOR A CHILD TO INVENT.

Jennifer Kent told Complex that some people thought the creature’s name sounded “silly,” which she agreed with. “I wanted it to be like something a child could make up, like ‘jabberwocky’ or some other nonsensical name,” she explained. “I wanted to create a new myth that was just solely of this film and didn’t exist anywhere else.”

2. JENNIFER KENT WAS WORRIED PEOPLE WOULD JUDGE THE MOTHER.

Amelia isn’t the best mother in the world—but that’s the point. “I’m not a parent,” Kent told Rolling Stone, “but I’m surrounded by friends and family who are, and I see it from the outside … how parenting seems hard and never-ending.” She thought Amelia would receive “a lot of flak” for her flawed parenting, but the opposite happened. “I think it’s given a lot of women a sense of reassurance to see a real human being up there,” Kent said. “We don’t get to see characters like her that often.”

3. KENT AND ESSIE DAVIS TONED DOWN THE CONTENT FOR THE KID.

Noah Wiseman was six years old when he played Samuel. Kent and Davis made sure he wasn’t present for the more horrific scenes, like when Amelia tells Samuel she wishes he was the one who died, not her husband. “During the reverse shots, where Amelia was abusing Sam verbally, we had Essie yell at an adult stand-in on his knees,” Kent told Film Journal. “I didn’t want to destroy a childhood to make this film—that wouldn’t be fair.”

Kent explained a “kiddie version” of the plot to Wiseman. “I said, ‘Basically, Sam is trying to save his mother and it’s a film about the power of love.’”

4. THE FILM IS ALSO ABOUT “FACING OUR SHADOW SIDE.”

IFC Films

Kent told Film Journal that “The Babadook is a film about a woman waking up from a long, metaphorical sleep and finding that she has the power to protect herself and her son.” She noted that everybody has darkness to face. “Beyond genre and beyond being scary, that’s the most important thing in the film—facing our shadow side.”

5. THE FILM SCARED THE HELL OUT OF THE DIRECTOR OF THE EXORCIST.

In an interview with Uproxx, William Friedkin—director of The Exorcist—said The Babadook was one of the best and scariest horror films he’d ever seen. He especially liked the emotional aspect of the film. “It’s not only the simplicity of the filmmaking and the excellence of the acting not only by the two leads, but it’s the way the film works slowly but inevitably on your emotions,” he said.

6. AN ART DEPARTMENT ASSISTANT SCORED THE ROLE AS THE BABADOOK.

Tim Purcell worked in the film’s art department but then got talked into playing the titular character after he acted as the creature for some camera tests. “They realized they could save some money, and have me just be the Babadook, and hence I became the Babadook,” Purcell told New York Magazine. “In terms of direction, it was ‘be still a lot,’” he said.

7. THE MOVIE BOMBED IN ITS NATIVE AUSTRALIA.

Even though Kent shot the film in Adelaide, Australians didn’t flock to the theaters; it grossed just $258,000 in its native country. “Australians have this [built-in] aversion to seeing Australian films,” Kent told The Cut. “They hardly ever get excited about their own stuff. We only tend to love things once everyone else confirms they’re good … Australian creatives have always had to go overseas to get recognition. I hope one day we can make a film or work of art and Australians can think it’s good regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.”

8. YOU CAN OWN A MISTER BABADOOK BOOK (BUT IT WILL COST YOU). 

IFC Films

In 2015, Insight Editions published 6200 pop-up books of Mister Babadook. Kent worked with the film’s illustrator, Alexander Juhasz, who created the book for the movie. He and paper engineer Simon Arizpe brought the pages to life for the published version. All copies sold out but you can find some Kent-signed ones on eBay, going for as much as $500.

9. THE BABADOOK IS A GAY ICON.

It started at the end of 2016, when a Tumblr user started a jokey thread about how he thought the Babadook was gay. “It started picking up steam within a few weeks,” Ian, the Tumblr user, told New York Magazine, “because individuals who I presume are heterosexual kind of freaked out over the assertion that a horror movie villain would identify as queer—which I think was the actual humor of the post, as opposed to just the outright statement that the Babadook is gay.” In June, the Babadook became a symbol for Gay Pride month. Images of the character appeared everywhere at this year's Gay Pride Parade in Los Angeles.

10. DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH FOR A SEQUEL.

Kent, who owns the rights to The Babadook, told IGN that, despite the original film's popularity, she's not planning on making any sequels. “The reason for that is I will never allow any sequel to be made, because it’s not that kind of film,” she said. “I don’t care how much I’m offered, it’s just not going to happen.”

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Space
NASA Is Posting Hundreds of Retro Flight Research Videos on YouTube
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If you’re interested in taking a tour through NASA history, head over to the YouTube page of the Armstrong Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base, in southern California. According to Motherboard, the agency is in the middle of posting hundreds of rare aircraft videos dating back to the 1940s.

In an effort to open more of its archives to the public, NASA plans to upload 500 historic films to YouTube over the next few months. More than 300 videos have been published so far, and they range from footage of a D-558 Skystreak jet being assembled in 1947 to a clip of the first test flight of an inflatable-winged plane in 2001. Other highlights include the Space Shuttle Endeavour's final flight over Los Angeles and a controlled crash of a Boeing 720 jet.

The research footage was available to the public prior to the mass upload, but viewers had to go through the Dryden Aircraft Movie Collection on the research center’s website to see them. The current catalogue on YouTube is much easier to browse through, with clear playlist categories like supersonic aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. You can get a taste of what to expect from the page in the sample videos below.

[h/t Motherboard]

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