29 Unforgettable Epitaphs

In a way, the epitaphs on gravestones are your last words to the world—and they’re literally written in stone. From political to humorous (and sometimes both), here are 29 people who had more to say than “RIP” or “Beloved wife.”

1. Leonard Matlovich

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1975, Leonard Matlovich, a Purple Heart-decorated member of the Air Force, became the first gay member of the U.S. military to publicly out himself. His fight to keep his military job made the cover of Time magazine in 1975. When he found out he had AIDS in 1986, Matlovich wrote his own epitaph and arranged to be buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Both became a reality when he died two years later.

2. Gabriel Williams

Find a Grave // Dustin Oliver

Presumably, Gabe Williams' family decided to combine his two biggest passions on his tombstone: Gymnastics and rock music.

3. Kay

Family Tree Magazine // Dan Convery

A reddit user tested the recipe and was unimpressed. Your mileage may vary.

4. Andrew J. Olszak

FindAGrave // Michael Cannon

There's no more permanent way to stick it to your family after you're gone than to engrave your disappointment on your tombstone.

5. Rodney Dangerfield

Stacy Conradt

Apparently comedian Rodney Dangerfield wanted to leave 'em laughing.

6. Billy Wilder

Stacy Conradt

And writer/filmmaker/producer/artist Billy Wilder had the same idea.

7. George Spencer Millet // Susan Kane

While it was once commonplace to put cause of death on gravestones, this particular demise was anything but run-of-the-mill.

8. Nathaniel Grigsby

According to Snopes, there's quite the story behind Grigsby's final words. As Abraham Lincoln's friend and extended family member (his brother married Lincoln's sister), Grigsby blamed the Democratic party for his death and, indeed, the entire Civil War. Twenty years after Lincoln was assassinated, Grigsby dictated his own epitaph as he lay on his deathbed and asked one of his sons to make sure the inscription was carried out.

9. Robert Clay Allison

Plazak,WikimediaCommons // CC BY-SA 3.0

As one of the most accomplished gunslingers in the Old West, Allison killed his fair share of people. According to his friends, though, Allison was a gentleman—he never killed a man who didn't have it coming.

10. Russell Larsen

FindAGrave // Candice xo

The saying on Larsen's grave is apparently well-known to many cowboys—but not many cowboys have immortalized it on their tombstones.

11. Bill Kugle

FindAGrave // Doug Zabel

Bill Kugle was a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Can you guess which party he belonged to?

12. Mary Dolencie

FindAGrave // eobfindagrave

Word to the wise: Don't anger cat ladies. When Mary Dolencie died in 1985, she wanted the world to know how angry she was at Whaling Port, her housing association. She believed her neighbors had it in for her, complaining about the number of cats she had and how she attracted pigeons to the area by feeding them. To get revenge, she had a curse engraved on her tombstone—but the people of Whaling Port say that so far, even decades later, things seem to be just fine.

13. Shakespeare

David Jones, Wikimedia Commons //CC BY 2.0

Shakespeare's epitaph was thought to have been written by the Bard himself to prevent his corpse from being dug up for research purposes, which was commonplace at the time. So far, his warning seems to have worked.

14. Cecil O’Dell Eads

FindAGrave // magjo

15. Herman Harband

FindAGrave says that this stone is actually a cenotaph—a memorial of sorts— not an actual gravestone. After exacting revenge on his wife, Harband arranged to be buried elsewhere. Upon his death, his wife sold the empty plot and had the cenotaph removed. It's supposedly still in storage at Beth David Memorial Gardens in Hollywood, Florida.

16. Fran Thatcher

FindAGrave // Number1

17. Leslie Nielsen


FindAGrave// Traci Barbour

The famous funnyman had his epitaph planned for close to 15 years. He died in 2010, but said in a 1996 interview that he intended to put "Let 'er rip" on his gravestone. There's also a bench dedicated to Nielsen nearby; it's inscribed with "Sit down whenever you can."

18. Bette Davis

FindAGrave // Jim Tipton

As the story goes, after Bette Davis worked with director Joseph Mankiewicz on All About Eve, he mentioned that "She did it the hard way" would someday make an appropriate epitaph for her. When Davis died in 1989, she took him up on the suggestion.

19. Jerry Bibb Balisok

FindAGrave // Graveaddiction

Jerry Bibb Balisok's epitaph is the story of a heartbroken mother. Balisok disappeared in 1977, two weeks before he was to stand trial for writing bad checks. After not hearing from her son for two years, Marjorie Balisok, his mother, became convinced that she had spotted her son's body in a picture of aftermath of the Jonestown massacre. The State Department and the FBI investigated Jerry Balisok and concluded that he never left the United States, but Marjorie was positive her son was dead, and furious that she was unable to cash in on his insurance money since there was no body.

Unfortunately, Marjorie died in 1983—seven years before her son would resurface under an assumed name. He was convicted of attempted murder and given a 20-year prison sentence in 1993.

20. Anonymous Democrat

Reddit // wiskerbiscuts

A cemetery worker stumbled across this political gem last year and posted it on Reddit. Users were quick to point out that the stone should say "principles."

21. Edith Tina Barlow

FindAGrave // gr8hobby

Short, though not terribly sweet.

22. Michael Leroy Luther

FindAGrave // Papaduck34

"Game Over" is a pretty fitting last phrase for an arcade game addict—and Michael Luther was so into this particular diversion that his sister had this distinctive stone designed when he died in 2007.

23. Dorothy Parker

You'd expect nothing less than a tongue-in-cheek epitaph from the acid pen of Dorothy Parker. She once suggested "Excuse my dust" as her final goodbye, and also "This is on me." 

24. Merv Griffin

Stacy Conradt

Legendary talk show host Merv Griffin wrote his own epitaph before his death, choosing this one over "I told you I was sick," a favorite amongst epitaph jokesters. People magazine reports that he chose "Stay tuned," but "I will not be right back..." must have won out before engraving was finalized.

25. Sir Jeffery Hudson

FindAGrave // ChristianFernandez

To be clear, Sir Jeffery Hudson didn't die from being baked in a pie. It was apparently just his claim to fame—one that follows him even more than 300 years after his death.

26. Helen Herczberg Gawara

FindAGrave// Neil

You can hear about Gawara's experience in this interview from the United States Holocaust Museum.

27. Dee Dee Ramone

FindAGrave // A.J. Marik

The Ramones rocker's epitaph is both laid-back and practical at the same time.

28. Lawrence L. Cook, Jr. // Lawrence L Cook 3rd

Mr. Cook passed away in 2004 after "a long illness," and his wife died in 1999, so his epitaph is likely meant to make visitors laugh—not provide a recap of his last moments.

29. Jack Lemmon

Stacy Conradt

Before his death, Academy Award winner Jack Lemmon was able to specify that he wanted his tombstone to be his final marquee. His instructions were followed to the letter—not even dates of birth or death accompany the simple statement.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
10 People Whose Hearts Were Buried Separately From the Rest of Them
Richard the Lionheart
Richard the Lionheart
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though it may seem bizarre today, having your heart buried apart from the rest of your body wasn’t uncommon for European aristocracy of the Middle Ages and beyond. The practice arose in part during the Crusades, when high-ranking warriors had a tendency to die in “heathen” places that weren’t seen as desirable burial locations. But transporting a whole body back to Europe made things pretty stinky, so corpses were stripped of flesh and ferried back to Europe as skeletons, with the inner organs (including the heart) removed and buried where the Crusaders had died. By the 12th century, members of the English and French aristocracy also frequently had their hearts buried separately from the rest of them.

Heart burial became less practical and more symbolic by the 17th century, partly as a religious practice associated with the Jesuits and other Counter Reformation groups. (Some scholars think the heart’s powerful symbolism became particularly important while the Catholic Church was undergoing a moment of crisis.) In Western Europe, it became common for powerful individuals, such as kings and queens, to ask that their hearts be buried in a spot they'd favored during life. In more recent years, Romantic poets and other artists also picked up the practice, which has yet to be entirely abandoned. Read on for some examples.


Richard I, a.k.a. “Richard the Lion-Heart,” ruled as King of England 1189-99 but spent most of his reign fighting abroad, which is how he earned his reputation for military prowess. (He also may or may not have eaten the heart of a lion.) He died after being struck by a crossbow while campaigning in Chalus, France, and while most of his body was buried at Fontevraud Abbey, his heart was interred in a lead box at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Rouen, France. The organ was rediscovered during excavations in the 1830s, and in 2012, forensic scientists examined it—now mostly reduced to a grayish-brown powder—to learn more about Richard’s precise cause of death (some think a poisoned arrow dealt the fatal blow). The crumbling heart was too decayed to tell them much about how Richard had died, but the scientists did learn about medieval burial rituals, noting the use of vegetables and spices “directly inspired by the ones used for the embalming of Christ.”


Robert the Bruce, King of Scots 1306-29, asked for his heart to be buried in Jerusalem. But it didn't get all the way there—the knight he entrusted it to, Sir James Douglas, was killed in battle with the Moors while wearing the heart in a silver case around his neck. Other knights recovered the heart from the battlefield, and brought it back to Melrose Abbey in Scotland for burial. Archeologists rediscovered what they believed to be the heart in 1920 and reburied it in a modern container; it was exhumed again in 1996, and reburied beneath the abbey’s lawn in 1998.


St. Laurence O’Toole, the second archbishop of Dublin and one of that city’s patron saints, died in 1180 in France. His heart was sent back to Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral, where it rested inside a heart-shaped wooden box within an iron cage—at least until 2012, when it was stolen. The dean of Christ Church Cathedral has speculated that the heart might have been taken by some kind of religious fanatic, since it has little economic value, and much more valuable gold and silver objects were ignored. (Weirdly, the thief, or thieves, also lit candles on one of the altars before fleeing.) The item has yet to be recovered.


The prince-bishops of Würzburg (part of modern Germany) practiced a three-part burial: their corpses were usually sent to Würzburg cathedral, their intestines to the castle church at Marienberg, and their hearts, embalmed in glass jars, to what is now Ebrach Abbey. The practice was common by the 15th century, though it may go back as far as the 12th. Their funerals at the Marienberg castle also featured what may be one of history’s worst jobs: a servant was required to hold the heads of the corpses upright during the funeral, which featured the body seated upright and impaled on a pole. The funerals lasted for several days. There were more than 80 prince-bishops; a German cardiologist who made a special study of heart burial says "about 30" of their hearts found their resting places in the abbey.


According to legend, after Anne Boleyn’s beheading in 1536, her heart was removed from her body and taken to a rural church in Erwarton, Suffolk, where the queen is said to have spent some happy days during her youth. In 1837, excavations at the church uncovered a small, heart-shaped lead casket inside a wall. The only thing inside was a handful of dust (it’s not clear whether it was actually the heart), but the casket was reburied in a vault beneath the organ, where a plaque today marks the spot.


Twenty-two hearts from various popes—from Sixtus V in 1583 to Leo XIII in 1903—are kept in marble urns at Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi in Rome. Traditionally, the hearts were removed with the rest of the organs as part of the postmortem preservation process, and kept as relics just in case the pope became a saint.


Romantic composer Frédéric Chopin died in Paris in 1849, and most of him is buried in that city’s Pere Lachaise, but he asked for his heart to be buried in his native Poland. His sister carried it back to their home country, where it is preserved in alcohol (some say cognac) within a crystal urn inside a pillar at the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. In 2014, scientists conducted a late-night examination of the heart to make sure the alcohol hadn’t evaporated, although their secrecy frustrated scientists who hope to one day examine the organ for clues about what killed the composer.


The burial place of Thomas Hardy's heart in Dorset
Visit Britain, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy wanted to be buried in his hometown of Stinsford, Dorset, but friends insisted that a burial in Westminster Abbey was the only appropriate choice for someone of Hardy’s literary prominence. But when town officials found out that Hardy’s body was destined for the abbey, they threw a fit, and so a compromise was reached—most of Hardy went to Westminster, but his heart was buried in Stinsford churchyard (where it has its own grave marker). A persistent, but unproven, story has it that a cat ate part of the heart when the doctor who was removing it got distracted; a gruesome addendum says the animal was killed and buried alongside the organ.


When the poet Percy Shelley died sailing the Mediterranean in 1822, local quarantine regulations dictated that his body had to be cremated on the beach. But his heart allegedly refused to burn, and a friend, the adventurer Edward Trelawny, supposedly plucked it out of the flames. After a custody battle among Shelley’s friends, the heart was given to Percy’s wife Mary, who kept it until she died. Her children found it in a silk bag inside her desk, and it is now said to be buried with her at the family vault in Bournemouth, England.


The powerful House of Habsburg practiced heart burial for centuries, with many of the organs buried in copper urns in Vienna's Augustiner Church. In 2011, Otto von Habsburg, the last heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which was dissolved in 1918), had his heart buried in the Benedictine Abbey in Pannonhalma, Hungary. The rest of him was buried in Vienna. The erstwhile crown prince said he wanted his heart buried in Hungary as a gesture of affection for the country—one half of his former empire.

Additional Sources: "Heart burial in medieval and early post-medieval central Europe"; Body Parts and Bodies Whole.

This story originally ran in 2015.

Smoking Just 1 Cigarette a Day Can Significantly Damage Your Health, Study Finds

Cutting back on smoking is a noble goal, but simply decreasing the amount of cigarettes you smoke—rather than quitting entirely—isn't as helpful as you might think when it comes to the health risks of tobacco use. ABC News reports that new research published in the BMJ finds that smoking just one cigarette a day still increases the risks of heart disease and stroke significantly.

Led by researchers from University College London and King’s College London, the study found that compared to not smoking at all, smoking one cigarette a day resulted in a 46 percent greater risk of heart disease and a 25 percent greater risk of stroke for men, and for women, a 57 percent greater risk of heart disease and 31 percent greater risk of stroke. Even if a person cuts down from smoking 20 cigarettes a day to one, the study found, the risks of developing heart disease and stroke are only halved—not reduced by 95 percent, as would be proportional. (Previous research has found that lung cancer risk, by contrast, decreases proportionally depending on the number of cigarettes smoked per day.)

The researchers examined 141 previous studies, reported in 55 publications, analyzing the risks of heart disease and stroke among men and women who smoked. The studies each examined risks of light smoking (defined as one to five cigarettes a day) and the risks associated with heavy smoking, or 20 cigarettes per day. The researchers adjusted for whether the studies considered factors like age, cholesterol, and blood pressure, all of which can also impact a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke.

The findings show that any amount of smoking carries high risks. While one cigarette a day might seem like nothing to a heavy smoker, its impacts on the body are significant, and shouldn't be underestimated, either by smokers or by their doctors.

[h/t ABC News]


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