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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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Pop Culture
The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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entertainment
20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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