- Many pithy, memorable famous last words are posthumous fiction.
- Conflicting historical accounts and sparse witnesses make them hard to verify.
- The reality of famous figures’ deaths tends to be more sobering.
Don’t trust everything you read on the internet — especially when it comes to historical quotes.
And that goes triple for famous last words.
Final words are often notoriously difficult to verify. There are fabrications that are just completely made up for one reason or another. Then there are exaggerations — sayings twisted into more quotable turns of phrase or modern vernacular or authentic quotes said long before the individual ended up on their deathbed.
Lastly, there are some plausible sayings that are simply impossible to confirm either way, because they happened too long ago or in front of people with an agenda.
With that in mind, here’s a roundup of some famous last words floating around there that are almost certainly somewhat inaccurate:
'Et tu, Brute?' is likely one of the most widely remembered and quoted Latin phrases out there, thanks to William Shakespeare's dramatic retelling of the Roman strongman's life.
The words conjure up a stirring image -- a powerful politician realising he's betrayed -- and stabbed -- by a beloved adopted son.
However, Roman biographer Suetonius claimed the man's last words might have been even sadder. He reports Caesar possibly said, 'You too, my child?' in Greek, before succumbing to his injuries, according to Livius.org.
Suetonius himself, however, believed it was more likely Caesar had died without saying a word.
No, Oscar Wilde didn't leave this world complaining about tacky interior design choices.
Records indicate the famously witty Wilde did once utter a similar phrase: 'My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.'
However, according to the book 'Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years,' he said this to a visiting friend a few weeks before he passed away in Paris in 1854.
The Hollywood star didn't die mulling over his preferred drink when he passed in 1957.
In reality, according to his wife Lauren Bacall, his final words before slipping into a coma were, 'Goodbye, kid. Hurry back.'
Online you'll find several different renditions of the final words of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome.
According to the Atlantic, one such legend has him dying in 14 CE while hamming it up, telling his deathbed visitors, 'If I've played my part well, then clap your hands, and dismiss me from the stage with applause.'
Other accounts have him addressing his wife Livia, 'Live mindful of our wedlock, Livia and farewell.' The story is, he then kissed her one last time and died, according to RomanEmperors.org.
Given the swirling factors of propaganda, legend, and time, it's simply hard to know exactly what Augustus's last words were in reality.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, half a century after they drafted the declaration that would prompt the North American colonies to break away from England.
It's a poetic detail, and many also attribute equally poetic final words to the two founders. In Jefferson's case, while he did apparently ask about the date, it's hard to know what his exact last words are. Even Thomas Jefferson's Monticello won't say for certain on its website.
It is true -- and fascinating -- that these two friends-turned-enemies-turned-pen-pals died exactly 50 years after the upheaval of 1776.
However, it's truly difficult to know with certainty whether Adams formed a coherent sentence about Jefferson on his deathbed.
There's been considerable debate over what the celebrated naval hero said before dying from a gunshot wound during the Battle of Trafalgar.
Much of that tends to focus on him allegedly saying, 'Kiss me, Hardy' to his flag captain, Thomas Hardy. According to Phrases.org, three eyewitness accounts did confirm Nelson did utter something that sounded like'Kiss me, Hardy.' Some have argued he really said, 'Kismet,' the Turkish word for fate.
Either way, whether he misheard him or was actually following orders, Hardy did kiss the dying admiral on the forehead.
Nelson succumbed to his wounds shortly afterward, after declaring, 'Thank God I have done my duty.'
'Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something.' -- Francisco 'Pancho' Villa, Mexican Revolutionary general
Did the dying Villa really scramble to come up with an interesting parting bon mot after he was fatally wounded in a 1923 ambush?
No. In reality, he was shot in the head and died instantly, Alejandro Quintana writes in his biography.
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