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Rabelais to Surratt
Rabelais, Francois (1494?-1553)

"Bring down the curtain, the farce is played out."

Francois Rabelais was a French writer who had been a Franciscan friar, a Benedictine monk, a secular priest, and a physician.  The obscene humor and ecclesiastical satire of his greatest book, Gargantua and Pantagruel, led to his condemnation by the Sorbonne.

Rabelais's last words have also been recorded as "I owe much; I have nothing; the rest I leave to the poor" and "I am going to seek a great perhaps."

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Raleigh, Sir Walter (1554?-1618)

"Strike, man, strike!"

Sir Walter Raleigh--a poet, historian, explorer, philosopher, and soldier--was the epitome of a Renaissance man.  Unfortunately, Raleigh's anti-Spanish privateering alienated King James I who charged him with treason in 1603.  Raleigh was held, under sentence of death, in the Tower of London until 1616 when he was finally granted a reprieve.  The reprieve was revoked in 1618 after Raleigh sailed to South America and attacked a Spanish camp near the Orinoco River. Upon his return to England, Raleigh was beheaded.  Before his execution, Raleigh refused to be blindfolded and touched the ax, saying " Doest thou think that I am afraid of it? This is that that will cure all sorrows."  He then placed his head on the block and noting a hesitance on the part of the executioner said, "What dost thou fear?  Strike, man, strike!"  It took two blows to sever his head, which his wife embalmed and kept in a red leather bag until her death 29 years later.

Raleigh's last words have also been recorded as "'Tis a sharp remedy, but a sure one for all ills" and "So the heart be right, it is no matter which way the head lieth."

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Reeves, George "Superman" (1914-1959)

"I'm tired.  I'm going back to bed."

George Reeves was an American actor most famous for playing Superman on the classic 1950's television series.  Although Reeves had been a respected actor for years (one of his first important roles was as one of the Tarlton twins in Gone With the Wind), he became so typecast in his Superman role that he couldn't find work after the series ended in 1957.  Late one night while he was living with his finance and another friend, two other friends came to visit.  Reeves became angry that he had been awakened and announced that he was going back to bed.  He went back upstairs to his bedroom and shot himself in the head with a 30 caliber luger.

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Remington, Frederic (1861-1909)

"Cut 'er loose, Doc!"

Frederic Remington was the premier artist of the American West.  In 1909, he developed an acute case of appendicitis.  He spoke his last words to the surgeon just before his emergency appendectomy and died of peritonitis and other complications following the operation.

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Rhodes, Cecil John (1853-1902)

"So little done, so much to do."

Cecil Rhodes emigrated to South Africa from England for health reasons and made a fortune from gold and diamond mining.  He died from heart disease, beset by personal scandals and discredited for his role in fomenting the Boer War.  A colleague, sitting at his bedside, heard Rhodes murmur his last words.

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Roland, Madame Jeanne-Marie Phlipon (1754-1793)

"Oh Liberty! Liberty! What crimes are committed in your name!"

Madame Roland was a devotee of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the wife of Jean-Marie Roland de La Platière, a former government official who became a leader of the Girondist party during the French Revolution.  Her salon served as an intellectual meeting place for Girondists and Jacobins, including Maximilien Robespierre and Georges Danton, alike. When the moderate Girondists lost popularity and fell into disfavor with the radical leaders of the revolution following their protests over the killing of the aristocracy, her husband was forced to flee Paris for safety.  Eventually Madame Roland was arrested and sent to prison.  On 23 November she was taken to the guillotine along with another prisoner.  Before she was executed, Madame Roland bowed to a nearby statue of Liberty and spoke her last words.  Her husband committed suicide upon learning of her death.

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Roosevelt, Franklin Delano (1882-1945)

"I have a terrific headache."

Franklin Roosevelt was the 32nd president of the United States and greatly expanded the role of the federal bureaucracy in attempting to manage economic and social issues.  As president, he also led the nation through most of World War II.  In February, 1945, Roosevelt met with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin at Yalta to plan the final months of the war and decide upon the organization of the post-war world.  Bested by Stalin at the conference and exhausted by the negotiations, Roosevelt returned to the United States and took Lucy Page Mercer Rutherford, his long-time mistress and his wife's former secretary, with him to relax at his private getaway in Warm Springs, Georgia.  There, while having his portrait painted, he remarked to the artist that he had a terrible headache, collapsed, and died of a cerebral hemorrhage.  Of course, Mrs. Rutherford was spirited away before Roosevelt's wife, Eleanor, arrived.

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Rothstein, Arnold "Mr. Big" (?-1928)

"Me mudder did it."

Arnold Rothstein was the notorious gangland money man who made a fortune on the 1919 World Series fix.  Rothstein, a partner of Meyer Lansky, was shot while playing poker at Park Central Hotel in New York City on November 4, 1928.  He was taken to Polyclinic Hospital where despite intensive police questioning he refused to name his killer.  He appears as the fictional character, Meyer Wolfshiem, in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby.

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Ruffin, Edmund (?-1865)

"I here declare my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule--to all political, social and business connection with the Yankees and to the Yankee race. Would that I could impress these sentiments, in their full force, on every living Southerner and bequeath them to every one yet to be born! May such sentiments be held universally in the outraged and down-trodden South, though in silence and stillness, until the now far-distant day shall arrive for just retribution for Yankee usurpation, oppression and atrocious outrages, and for deliverance and vengeance for the now ruined, subjugated and enslaved Southern States! . . .  And now with my latest writing and utterance, and with what will be near my latest breath, I here repeat and would willingly proclaim my unmitigated hatred to yankee rule--to all political, social and business connections with Yankees, and the perfidious, malignant and vile Yankee race."

Edmund Ruffin was a vocal proponent of secession and rabid supporter of Southern rights.  Following the defeat of the Confederacy, he found that he could not bear to live under Union reconstruction and chose to commit suicide.  Before he did, he wrote these words in his diary.
Ruth, George Herman "Babe" (1895-1948) (see epitaph)

"I'm going over the valley."

Babe Ruth was one of the all-time greatest American baseball players.  On 13 June 1948, he returned to Yankee Stadium in New York City to celebrate its 25th anniversary despite being gravely ill from throat cancer.  He was admitted to the hospital a little over a week later but recovered enough to attend the premier of The Babe Ruth Story starring William Bendix in late July.  He became so weak during the screening that he departed before the movie finished and was readmitted to the hospital.  On 16 August Ruth told a visitor "Don't come back tomorrow.  I won't be here."  Later that evening he left his bed and began to wander about his room.  A doctor noticed him and asked where he was going.  Ruth returned to his bed and lapsed into a coma and died within the hour.

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Sacco, Nicola (1891-1927)

"If it had not been for these things I might live out my life talking at street corners to scorning men.  I might have died unmarked, a failure, unknown.  Now we are not a failure.  This is our career and our triumph.  Never in our full life could we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice and for man's understanding of man."

In 1921, Nicola Sacco and his partner Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian immigrant anarchists, were convicted of murdering the paymaster and a guard at a shoe factory during a robbery.  National and international communist, anarchist, socialist, and labor organizations protested their innocence, and a series of defense motions and appeals wound their way through the courts for over six years.  Repeatedly, judges and even an independent investigative committee upheld their conviction and sentence.  Both men were finally executed in 1927.  In 1977, on the fiftieth anniversary of their execution, the governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, decreed that they were innocent and declared any "disgrace should be forever removed from their names."

Just as with most murdering communists, anarchists, and other assorted radicals of America's not to distant past, the political, media, and academic left of today have made a heroes and martyrs of Sacco and Vanzetti.  Impartial or balanced biographies are nearly impossible to find.

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Sanders, George (?-1972)

"Dear World.  I am leaving you because I am bored.  I feel I have lived long enough.  I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool.  Good luck."

George Sanders was a British actor whose film career spanned four decades and included Rebecca, Forever Amber, and All About Eve, for which he won an Oscar.  The screen's epitome of a cad, Sanders was married four times in real life; his wives included two of the Gabor sisters, Zsa Zsa and Magda.  In April 1972, Sanders checked into a hotel in Barcelona, wrote a short suicide note, and took an overdose of sleeping pills.

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Saroyan, William (1908-1981)

"Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.  Now what?"

William Saroyan was a Pulitzer Prize winning writer of plays, short stories, and novels whose works were noted for their sentimental optimism.  Before his death in 1981, Saroyan telephoned his final words to the Associated Press.

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Scott, Robert Falcon, Captain (1868-1912)

"Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman.  These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.  R. Scott"

Captain Scott was a famous British explorer who led an ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.  Despite severe weather and repeated equipment failure, Scott and his men arrived at the South Pole on January 18, 1912, only to find that Roald Admundsen and his party had reached it a month before.  On the return trip, the entire party became lost within eleven miles of the basecamp, and everyone perished.   Scott's diary was later found by other explorers.  See Captain Lawrence Oates.

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Sedgwick, John "Uncle John," General (1813-1864)

"They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance."

General John Sedgwick was a corps commander in the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War.  At the battle of the Wilderness, while inspecting his troops, he approached a parapet and peered out over the surrounding countryside.  His officers and men urged him to take cover from small arms fire, but Sedgwick scoffed at their concerns, "What! What men! This will never do, dodging from single bullets!"  

Sedgwick's Chief of Staff recorded that shortly thereafter Sedgwick saw another soldier drop to the ground as a sharp-shooter's bullet passed by with a long shrill whistle.  Again, Sedgwick repeated his remark about the elephant, and the soldier replied that he'd been dodging bullets all day and that if he hadn't, one of them surely would have taken off his head.  Sedgwick replied, laughingly, "All right, my man, go to your place."  No sooner had the words left his mouth then the general fell to the ground, blood spurting "in a little fountain" from a hole in his cheek, just under the left eye. 

Sitting Bull (1831-1890)

"I am not going.  Do with me what you like.  I am not going.  Come on!  Come on!  Take action!  Let's go!"

Although Sitting Bull--an important Sioux chief who is most famous for his role in defeating Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn--surrendered with about 200 of his followers in 1886, he continued to resist the U.S. government and tribal authorities by encouraging performances of the Ghost Dance ceremony and fomenting a new war against the white man.  On 15 December 1890, about forty Native American members of the Indian Constabulary surrounded Sitting Bull's cabin and attempted to arrest him.  When Sitting Bull refused to leave with the police, a crowd of angry supporters gathered around him.  One of them, Catch the Bear, pulled a gun and shot the senior officer, Lieutenant Henry Bull Head.  As Bull Head fell, he fired once and hit Sitting Bull in the side.  A close quarters fire fight immediately broke out, and by the time it ended fourteen men--six of whom were police officers--had died. 

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Sobhuza II (1899-1982)

"I am going."

Sobhuza II, King of Swaziland, called a meeting of his advisors to discuss political relations with other African states.  Suddenly, he stopped the meeting and dismissed everyone except his minister of health.  To him, Sobhuza said, "I am going."  Confused, the minister asked where.  Sobhuza silently smiled, waved good-bye, and died.

Socrates (469-399 B.C.)

"Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius.  Will you remember to pay the debt?"

Socrates was a Greek philosopher broke with tradition to investigate both ethics and logic.  Possessed with an amazing ability to irritate politicians, he was eventually convicted of corrupting the young people of Athens through his teaching and sentenced to death by drinking hemlock.

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Stein, Gertrude (1874-1946)

"What is the question?"

Gertrude Stein was a U.S. writer who became famous for her experimental prose.  She lived most of her life in Paris with her companion Alice B. Toklas.  When Stein was dying of cancer, she turned to Alice B. Toklas and whispered, "What is the answer?"  Miss Toklas did not respond.  Stein nodded, as if in agreement, and continued, "In that case, what is the question?"

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Surratt, Mary (1823-1865)

"Please don't let me fall."

Mary Surratt, one of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, was the first woman ever executed by the United States government.  She was hanged on July 7, 1869.

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