Heart-Wrenching Last Words From 14 Historical Figures

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Vote up the last words that pull at your heartstrings.

Just like life, death is different for everyone. The final moments of an individual's life may happen quietly at home or on a noisy battlefield. They can happen in an instant, unexpectedly, or be part of a longer period of decline. Whenever and however the end arrives, people often conclude their lives with words.

Many last words are never documented, but in the case of historical figures, many are recorded for posterity. Final utterances influence historical legacies, shape lore and myths around people from the past, and evoke emotions for years and decades after they were spoken.

These quotes were especially heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. They pulled at our heartstrings in ways we didn't think would happen. Take a look and see if they do the same for you. 

  • Betty White: 'Allen.'
    Photo: CBS Television / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Before her passing in December 2021, Betty White reportedly said one last word: "Allen."

    It was the name of her husband, Allen Ludden, who succumbed to cancer in 1981. White's marriage to the Password game show host was her third, and according to White:

    I made two mistakes before Allen, but the love of your life doesn’t come along in every life, so I am very grateful that I found him.

    White's assistant relayed her final words to Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence, two of White's former co-stars. White's friend and agent Jeff Witjas, offered these thoughts about her passing:

    I don't think Betty ever feared passing because she always wanted to be with her most beloved husband Allen Ludden. She believed she would be with him again.

    • Age: 99 (1922-2021)
    • Birthplace: Oak Park, IL, US
  • James Maitland Stewart, better known to fans as Jimmy, had a film career that extended from the mid-1930s into the early 1990s. He married his wife, Gloria, in 1949, and the couple raised four children. After Gloria's passing in 1994, Stewart retreated from the public eye.

    As actor, critic, director, and producer Peter Bogdanovich put it, when Gloria died, "Jimmy felt his life was over, too." Shortly before his own passing in 1997, Stewart said to the family members who'd gathered around him, "I'm going to be with Gloria now."

    • Age: Dec. at 89 (1908-1997)
    • Birthplace: Indiana, PA, US
  • Michael Landon: 'You're Right. It's Time...' 
    Photo: NBC Television / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Michael Landon (born Eugene Maurice Orowitz) was known for his long career in television, appearing on shows like BonanzaLittle House on the Prairie, and Highway to Heaven. He passed in July 1991, just three months after announcing that he'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Landon's daughter, Leslie, recalled how her father was during his final days:

    He had truly felt that he had lived this amazing life... I know he put up the biggest fight that he could. But I can distinctly remember toward the end - he'd become very frail... I knew my dad didn't want to live anymore. He had become a shell of who he was and his only existence at that point was suffering.

    Cindy Landon, Michael's widow, was by her husband's side when he passed, as were his nine children. Before telling them he loved them, Landon reportedly had a vision of his deceased parents. When they apparently told him they were ready for him, he said, "You're right. It's time." 

    • Age: Dec. at 54 (1936-1991)
    • Birthplace: Forest Hills, NY, US
  • Joe DiMaggio: 'At Least I'll Be With Marilyn Again.'
    Photo: Macfadden Publications / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio passed on March 8, 1999, nearly three decades after his former wife, Marilyn Monroe. He and Monroe were married in January 1954 (the second marriage for both), but in October, Monroe announced it was over. In response to her ending their marriage, DiMaggio wrote to his wife:

    I love you and want to be with you... There is nothing I would like better than to restore your confidence in me... My heart split even wider seeing you cry in front of all those people.

    After they divorced, DiMaggio never married again, while Monroe went on to marry playwright Arthur Miller in 1956. Her passing in 1962 reportedly devastated DiMaggio, who arranged her funeral. He spent the following 20 years delivering roses to her grave, once saying, "I'll go to my grave regretting and blaming myself for what happened to her."

    DiMaggio's enduring love for Monroe lasted until his final days. Morris Engelberg, the outfielder's lawyer, told the media that, from his deathbed, DiMaggio's last words were:

    I don't feel bad about dying. At least, I'll be with Marilyn again.

    • Age: Dec. at 84 (1914-1999)
    • Birthplace: Martinez, CA, US
  • James K. Polk: 'I Love You Sarah. For All Eternity...'
    Photo: Unknown (most likely John Plumbe, Jr.) / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    James K. Polk passed on June 15, 1849, just three months after leaving the office of the presidency. Being president had, reportedly, caused his health to decline. Through the spring of 1849, Polk traveled through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama, all while struggling with chronic headaches and digestive issues.

    By June, Polk and his wife Sarah had relocated to Tennessee, but he continued to grow weaker. In his final moments, in the company of his mother, friends, and Sarah, Polk addressed his wife:

    I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.

    Sarah Polk lived until 1891

    • Age: Dec. at 53 (1795-1849)
    • Birthplace: Pineville, NC, US
  • Known for his prolific film presence through much of the mid-20th century, John Wayne (born Marion Robert Morrison) succumbed to cancer in June 1979. The 72-year-old had entered the hospital the previous month to have surgery, the second operation he underwent that year.

    Wayne was surrounded by family at the time of his death, including his daughter Aissa. When she asked if her father knew who she was, Wayne reportedly responded:

    Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.

    In her book, John Wayne: My Father, Aissa provides a different account, although Wayne's final words were to her. She indicated the actor told her to "Make sure Marisa's okay." Marisa was Wayne's youngest daughter and was only 13 at the time of her father's death. 

    • Age: Dec. at 72 (1907-1979)
    • Birthplace: Winterset, IA, US