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Bailly to Burbank
Bailly, Jean Sylvain (1736-1793)

"Only from the cold, my friend."

Jean Bailly, a member of the French Academy of Sciences, became the first revolutionary mayor of Paris in 1789.  Eventually, however, the reign of terror ensnared him and he was sentenced to death.  On the scaffold, awaiting the guillotine, he was heckled by a spectator who noticed that he was trembling.

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Bankhead, Tallulah (1902-1968)

"codeine . . . bourbon"

Tallulah Bankhead was one of this century's first show business personalities.  Her most famous movie role was in Alfred Hitchcock's film, Lifeboat.  Notorious for her outrageous behavior and habitual abuse of alcohol, opiates, marijuana, and tobacco, Bankhead died in 1968 when a bout of Asian flu was more than her emphysema could tolerate.  Before slipping into a coma after being hooked to a ventilator in a New York City hospital, her only discernible words were barely audible requests for codeine and bourbon.

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Barnum, Phineas Taylor (1810-1891)

"How were the circus receipts in Madison Square Gardens?"

P.T. Barnum was the most famous American showman of all time. He began his career in 1835  when he purchased a very old hymn-singing slave named Joice Heth and exhibited her as the 161 year old nurse of George Washington.  As an additional attraction, he added the preserved body of a FeeJee Mermaid--in reality the top half of a monkey sewn to the tail of a fish.  By 1841, Barnum had earned enough to open the American Museum in New York City where his attractions included General Tom Thumb and--for a short time--Jenny Lind in addition to a host of animals and sideshow attractions.  In 1871, he took his "circus" on the road and, ten years later, merged his operation with James A. Bailey's.  After taking his "Barnum and Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth" on a triumphant tour of London during the winter of 1889-1890, Barnum returned to New York City.

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Barrymore (Blyth), Ethel (1879-1959)

"Are you happy?  I'm happy."

Ethel Barrymore, the famous American actress, had been bedridden from rheumatism and a severe heart condition for some time when, on the night of 17 June 1959, she finished listening to a Dodgers-Braves doubleheader on the radio.  She felt ill and asked for her doctor.  After he left, she talked with her maid, Anna Albert, until she fell asleep. Barrymore awoke briefly at 03:00 the next morning and took Anna's hands in hers.  "Are you happy?" she asked, "I'm happy."  She fell back asleep and died several hours later without regaining consciousness.

Ethel Barrymore's last words have also been recorded as "Is everybody happy?  I want everybody to be happy.  I know I'm happy."
Barrymore (Blyth), John "Jack or Jake" (1882-1942)

"You heard me, Mike "

John Barrymore was the most famous of his theatrical family.  He was an accomplished classical actor and one of Hollywood's first movie stars.  Although considered difficult to work with by many, Barrymore could demonstrate considerable charm as well.  Aware that he was dying in the hospital, Barrymore requested to speak with a priest who was escorted to his bedside by an elderly and rather homely nurse.  The priest asked Barrymore if he had anything to confess.  "Yes, Father," he replied.  "I confess to having carnal thoughts."  "About whom?" asked the priest.  "About her," answered Barrymore, pointing to the nurse.

Barrymore lapsed into a semi-conscious delirium shortly after the priest left and only briefly regained lucidity before his death.  Awakening, he found a long-time friend, Gene Fowler, at his bedside.  "Lean over me.  I want to ask you something," Barrymore whispered.  "Tell me, is it true that you are the illegitimate son of Buffalo Bill?"  "Yes," Fowler replied solemnly, "I am told that Colonel Cody was my natural father, but we mustn't let anyone know about it."  "I have always thought so," Barrymore smiled.  He then lapsed into unconsciousness.  Later just before his death, Barrymore woke and murmured something that his brother, Lionel, could not understand.  "What did you say, Jake?" Lionel asked.  "You heard me, Mike," was Barrymore's final response.

"Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him" are frequently (and incorrectly) cited as John Barrymore's last words.

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Becket, Thomas (1118?-1170)

"For the name of Jesus and the protection of the church I am ready to embrace death."

Thomas Becket was appointed as chancellor of England by Henry II in 1154.  He was a skillful, loyal, and ambitious administrator who became a favorite of the king.  When the archbishop of Canterbury died in 1161, King Henry arranged for Becket to assume the position in order to bring the Church under royal control.  Becket, however, took his appointment seriously, became an energetic religious leader, and frequently opposed the king.  In 1164, after an especially ugly dispute, Becket fled to exile in France and lived there for next six years.   Henry eventually was forced to reconcile with Becket, and the archbishop returned to England.  Becket continued to clash with the king, and one day Henry was overheard to say that he wished he were rid of the troublesome priest.  Four of his knights took him literally, rode to Canterbury, and hacked Becket to death in the cathedral.  As the knights confronted Becket, he is alledged to have said, "If all the swords in England were pointed against my head, your threats would not move me."  The atrocity shocked all of Europe, and the Church quickly declared Becket a martyr.  Threatened with excommunication, Henry was forced to do public penance to keep his throne.

Becket's last words have also been recorded as "I commend myself to God, the Blessed Mary, St. Denis, and the patron saints of this Church," "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit," and, in Richard Burton's portrayal, "Paratus sum pro Domino mori pacem et lubertatem per sanguinem meaim goudeal Ecclesia." (I am ready to die for my Lord.  May the Lord's church obtain peace and liberty through my blood.)

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Beecher, Henry Ward (1813-1887)

"Now comes the mystery."

Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, was a fervent abolitionist and one of the most influential American clergymen of the 1800's.  His down-to-earth sermons and outspoken moral earnestness helped make him "the most famous man in America."  His popularity lasted throughout his life, surviving a sensational adultery trial in 1875 that ended in a hung jury, an acceptance of Darwinism, and even his eventual rejection of the divinity of Jesus.

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Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827)

"Pity, pity . . . too late!"

Ludwig van Beethoven, a German composer, was one of the world's greatest musical geniuses.  In 1792, Beethoven moved from the provincial court city of Bonn to Vienna, where he studied with Haydn.  His hearing had begun to fail by 1798, but he continued to produce a massive volume of music including numerous masterpieces.  Unfortunately, the last thirty years of his life were filled with a series of personal tragedies.  In addition to his deafness, he became depressed after ending a relationship with an unnamed--and probably married--lady; he struggled through a series of legal battles to gain custody of his nephew following the death of his brother; he was plagued by financial problems and huge debts, and his health began to rapidly fail after his nephew attempted suicide in 1826.  Beethoven spoke his last words from his deathbed when told of recent gift of twelve bottles of wine.

His last word have also been listed as "I shall hear in heaven," but this is certainly untrue.  It is also unlikely, though not impossible that his last words may have been , "Plaudite, amici, comedia finita est (Applaud, my friends, the comedy is over)," the traditional conclusion of performances of Italian Commedia dell'Arte.

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Behan, Brendan (1923-1964)

"Bless you, Sister.  May all your sons be bishops."

Brendan Behan was an Irish playwright and member of the Irish Republican Army.  Known for his especially sardonic humor, he based many of his works on his experience in the IRA and the years he spent in spent reform school and prison.  He uttered his last words to a nursing nun who was taking his pulse.

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Bell, Alexander Graham (1847-1922)


Alexander Graham Bell was a Scottish inventor who worked in the United States for most of his life.  While he is most famous for creating the telephone, Bell also held an appointment as a professor of vocal physiology at Boston University.  There, he fell in love with and married one of his deaf students, Mabel Hubbard.  After forty-five years of marriage, Bell was stricken with a fatal illness.  As he lay dying, Mabel whispered to him, "Don't leave me."  In response, Bell signed the word, "No."

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Bernstein, Leonard  (1918-1990)

"What's this?"

Leonard Bernstein was the preeminent American composer, pianist, and conductor of the 20th century.  he became the Musical Director of the New york Philharmonic in 1958 and later created a series of legendary televised educational concerts for children.  In addition to three symphonies, Bernstein's compositions include West Side Story, Candide, and Wonderful Town.

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Billy the Kid (alias - William Bonney; real name - Henry McCarty) (1859-1881)

"Quein es?" or "Who is it?"

Billy the Kid was a gunman who killed several men during the infamous Lincoln County War in New Mexico.  Wanted for murder, he was tracked and cornered by Sheriff Pat Garrett.  Garrett killed Billy with a single shot to the heart in a dark room of a house at Fort Sumner when he recognized Billy's voice.

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von Blucher, Gebhardt Leberecht (1742-1819)

"Nostiitz, you have learned many a thing form me.  Now you are to learn how peacefully a man can die."

Blucher was Field Marshal who renewed Prussia's military in the early 1800s.  He detested Napoleon and hated the French.  Although he was often defeated in battle by Napoleon, Blucher was instrumental in Bonaparte's final defeat at Waterloo, when following the Prussian defeat at Ligny in which he was trampled during a cavalry charge, he led the his army onto the field of battle just in time to deal the French a crushing blow that sealed the Duke of Wellington's victory.  Never a master of strategy or tactics, Blucher was reknowned for his personal bravery and well-loved by his soldiers, in part for his consumption of incredible quantities of gin.  Although it may well have been due to an alcohol-clouded mind or, perhaps others' lack of appreciation for his unusual sense of humor, Blucher's sanity was often questioned by allies and enemies alike, especially after he made what appeared to be sincere claims that he was pregnant with an elephant sired by a French grenadier.  Blucher died at his Silesian residence in Krieblowitz on 12 September 1819 with his devoted aide-de-camp, Count Nostitz, by his side.

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Boleyn, Anne (1507?-1536)

"Oh God, have pity on my soul.  Oh God, have pity on my soul."

Anne Boleyn was Henry VIII's second queen and the mother of Elizabeth I.  She was executed after she fell into Henry's disfavor.  From the scaffold, she addressed the spectators who came to see her beheaded, "Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it.  I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord.  And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best.  And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.  O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul."  Following her speech, she was blindfolded and led to the block where she repeatedly prayed, "To Jesus Christ I commend my soul.  Lord Jesu receive my soul."  As she placed her head on the stone, she began to cry and spoke her last words.

Anne Boleyn did say "The executioner is, I believe, very expert, and my neck is very slender," but these were not her last words.  She said this to Mr. Kingston, the Constable of the Tower, while being consoled by him on the day before her execution.

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Booth, John Wilkes (1839-1865)

"Tell mother, tell mother, I died for my country. . . .  useless . . . useless . . ."

After John Wilkes Booth fired a fatal shot into the back of President Lincoln's head, he jumped from the box to the stage of Ford's Theater in Washington shouting "Sic Semper Tyrannis," the motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  As he leapt, his boot caught in some bunting causing him to break his left leg upon landing.  He fled the city with a co-conspirator, David Herold, and eventually ended up trapped by soldiers while hiding in a barn at Richard Garnet's farm in Virginia.  Herold gave himself up when called upon to surrender, but Booth yelled back, "Captain, this is a hard case, I swear.  Give a lame man a chance.  Draw up your men twenty yards from the door, and I will fight your whole command."  When his offer was refused, he shouted, "Well, my brave boys, you can prepare a stretcher for me."  The soldiers then set fire to the barn in an attempt to drive Booth from it as their orders were to capture him alive.  Booth began to shout, "Kill me!  Kill me!"   In the confusion, at least one soldier shot into the barn.  Booth collapsed, struck in the neck by a round.  He was dragged from the flames and onto the porch of Garnet's house where he died mumbling.

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Bouhours, Dominique (1628-1702)

"Je vais ou je vas mourir, l'un et l'autre se dit ou se disent."  ("I am about to--or I am going to--die; either expression is correct.")

Dominique Bouhours was a preeminent French Jesuit grammarian who worked endlessly to promote a high standard of correctness and purity in the French language. 
Brahms, Johannes (1833-1897)

"Ah, that tastes nice.  I thank you."

While he was a relatively young man, Brahms musical talent attracted the attention of Robert Shumann.  His brilliant blend of romanticism and classicism made Brahms the champion of those who opposed the musical innovations of Liszt and Wagner.  Perhaps, Brahms' most enduring composition was Wiegenlied: Guten Abend, Gute Nacht, Op. 48, No. 4, which we English speakers know better as Brahms' Lullaby.  Following Schumann's death, he maintained an exceptionally close, long-term friendship with Schumann's widow, Clara, to whom he was entirely devoted.  While at Clara's funeral, Brahms became severely chilled, which in turn aggravated a long-time liver ailment that would kill him a year later.  Bedridden, Brahms asked his nurse for a small glass of wine.

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Bronte, Emily (1818-1848)

"I lingered around them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."

Emily Bronte, the English author of Wuthering Heights, was one of the three Bronte sisters who channeled their oppressive and secluded childhood experiences into a series of novels that influenced the direction of modern English literature.  Bronte published Wuthering Heights in 1847, but her happiness and success were short-lived.  She soon became ill and died the following year. 

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Brown, John (1800-1859)

"I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood!"

John Brown, a shiftless American drifter, became actively involved--on the anti-slavery side--in the guerilla warfare that wracked the Kansas Territory during the 1850's .  In 1856, Brown and six followers--four of whom were his sons--snuck into Pottawatomie River country by night and hacked five helpless settlers to death.  Bragging about the raid, Brown promised that, if he had the resources, he would lead a massive slave revolt throughout the South.  Despite professing outward revulsion for Brown, a group of prominent Northern abolitionists agreed to fund this campaign.  Brown decided first to attack the Army arsenal at Harper's Ferry and steal weapons to be used in his revolt.  He seized the town and the armory with a gang of 21 men on October 16, 1859, but was soon overcome by local militia and regular troops led by Robert E. Lee.  Brown was arrested and convicted of treason, but his powerful arguments against slavery during the trail were widely publicized and did much to galvanize anti-slavery commitment  throughout the North.  Brown was hung on December 2, 1859, and the Civil War began a short two years later.  The abolitionist conspirators who funded Brown's treason were never brought to justice.

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Bruce, Lenny (Leonard Schneider) (1925-1966)

"Do you know where I can get any shit?"

Lenny Bruce was the original obscene comedian.  Darling of the pseudo-intelligencia and enemy of the establishment, Bruce's shows were repeatedly closed by local authorities.  Some critics attribute all that is good (or bad, depending upon your perspective) with American stand-up comedy today to Bruce.  A heavy drug user, Lenny Bruce was found naked and dead of an overdose on his bathroom floor with a hypodermic needle stuck in his right arm.  The man who found Bruce, John Judvich, claimed to have turned down his friend's request for a fix several hours before.

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Bruce, Robert, King of Scotland (1274-1329)

"Now, God be with you, my dear children.  I have breakfasted with you and shall sup with my Lord Jesus Christ." 

The grandfather of Robert Bruce lost his claim to be King of Scotland in 1292 in a succession suit decided by King Edward I of England.  During the following decade, Bruce repeatedly switched his loyalty between the Scottish independence and the king.  Following the execution of the Scottish national hero, William Wallace, in 1305, Bruce committed himself to the Scottish cause and murdered his old enemy, John Comyn, King Edward's choice to assume the Scottish throne.  The next Spring, Bruce was crowned at Scone and began an eight year military campaign to win back independence that culminated with the historic English defeat at Bannockburn in 1314.  He spent most of his remaining life fighting the English in Ireland and along the Scottish border until England formally recognized an independent Scotland in 1328.  Upon his death, he was succeeded by his son, David II. 

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Buchanan, James (1791-1868)

"Whatever the result may be, I shall carry to my grave the consciousness that at least I meant well for my country." 

James Buchanan was sworn in as the fifteenth President of the United States in 1857.  After Republicans won a plurality in the House of Representatives in 1858, every important bill they raised--anti-slavery or or otherwise--was either vetoed by Buchanan or failed to make it through the Senate which was controlled by southern Democrats.  The federal government ground to a halt.  North-South tension reached such a level that the Democrats split into northern and southern wings.  When the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln for President, there was little doubt that he would be elected despite the fact that he would not receive a single vote in the South.  Southern radicals began to advocate secession rather than accept a Republican President.  Hoping to achieve a compromise, Buchanan challenged the southern states' legal right to secede, but also maintained that the federal government had no legal right to prevent them from doing so.  When it became clear that the secessionist leaders had no intention of discussing a compromise, Buchanan accepted the resignations of his southern secretaries and sent the Star of the West to transport reinforcements to Fort Sumter off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina.  On January 9, 1861, South Carolina batteries fired upon the ship and drove it from the harbor.  Buchanan took no subsequent action and retired to Pennsylvania after Abraham Lincoln took office in March.

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Burbank, Luther (1849-1926)

"I don't feel good."

Luther Burbank was an American horticulturist who developed hundreds of new fruit, vegetable, and flower varieties.  Influenced heavily by Darwin's book, The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, he taught himself plant hybridization and developed a local reputation in Lancaster, Massachusetts, for growing exceptional garden vegetables.  He moved to California in 1875 and started a small nursery.  There he began systematically to develop plants of special size, color, flavor, and smell.  Never trained in the scientific method, he relied on intuition and kept few records of his experiments.

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