As things to say just before you breathe your last, it is difficult to think of a more appropriate valediction than Bing Crosby’s when he died on a golf course in Spain: “That was a great game of golf, fellas.” His doctor had advised him to play only 9 holes, the doc obviously wasn’t a fan of lengthy tee parties.
Bing’s singing voice was “like gold being poured out of a cup,” said Louis Armstrong, whose own voice sounded like the postman trudging up my gravel path while wearing football boots. I don’t know why he does that.
Lying dying in a Paris hotel, Oscar Wilde famously said, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go.” We’ve all had wallpaper like that. Perhaps equally famous are the last words of the general who assured his aide-de-camp that the enemy army “Couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist-” An almost unique example of speaking too soon and not speaking quickly enough.
Not everyone was a fan of memorable final utterances. Karl Marx thought that “last words are for fools who believe they have not said enough already.” Shouldn’t he have followed his own advice and kept his mouth shut? Humphrey Bogart was more practical: “I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis.” Good advice, some might say.
Woody Allen, who is 86 now, has had lots of time to mull over a variety of last words, but it is unlikely he will use any of them. He has announced that he isn’t afraid of death, he just doesn’t want to be there when it happens. A common sentiment, no doubt, although Mark Twain observed that he had been dead for billions of years before he was born, and had “not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
Most of us are not likely to be afforded the leisure of choosing some bon mot or pithy drollery to entertain future generations. (Spike Milligan’s gravestone simply says, “I told you I was ill.” In Gaelic!) It often happens, nevertheless, that a person’s final remarks are right on the nose when they turn up their toes. “Father hates me and I’m never coming back,” announced Marvin Gaye moments before his father shot him dead. He was right on both counts, obviously.
Lewis Carroll’s last insight was, “I shan’t need these pillows any more.” And Antarctic explorer Captain Oates — I’m sure you know this one — “I’m going outside and I may be some time,” were his final words, unless he slipped on the ice as he left the tent.
When my time comes, I shall possibly say something like, “Tell them I said nothing.” But the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa already used that line, so I’ll probably remain silent, for once in my life. I think that’s what I mean.